Should You Add a Forum to Your Astrology Blog?

July 30, 2010

You know a blog is “alive” when it hosts a conversation. You’re not just posting articles about the cardinal square or the astrological topic of the day. Readers are actually commenting. This level of participation in turn helps motivate you to write the next blog post, because you know some people actually care what you have to say.

If you have already built a community on your blog – if you have regulars who even talk to each other in the comments section – it may be time to introduce a forum. That way, your core readers can start their own topics, they’re not just relying on you to spark the conversations.

The Upside

There are many advantages to hosting a forum on your astrology blog:

  • It boosts page views.
  • User-generated content can bring you more search engine traffic.
  • It increases retention. Readers who are involved in a small community feel more invested, they feel like they have a home.
  • Having a forum gives you a deeper understanding of your readers, which provides data to help you write blog posts more customized to their needs.

The Challenges

  • Integrating a forum into a blog can be a technical challenge, especially if you want the forum to maintain the look and feel of your blog. A standard vBulletin board (image) looks nothing like a blog. ElsaElsa does a good job of integrating a forum that fits in with the style of her blog. It appears from looking at the source code that she uses bbPress, which integrates with WordPress blogs. On Sasstrology, I use bbPress within a larger BuddyPress installation. (BuddyPress is a social networking platform within WordPress).
  • You have to moderate discussions. If you are not intimately involved with your forum, it can get out of control. Face it, when members are allowed to be anonymous, sometimes their darker selves come out. Nastiness ensues. When I first started my forum, I had to learn the hard way that a set of community guidelines is essential to prevent the forum from turning into a cesspool of spam and personal attacks. If your community is large enough and you have mentally stable members who are committed to its health, you can enlist them to become moderators, and give them privileges from the backend of your forum software to delete posts that violate the forum rules.

Comment below: What is your experience with forums within blogs? Do you think it’s worth the trouble for your own blog?

About the Author

Jeffrey KishnerJeffrey Kishner is publisher of Sasstrology.com.


How to Sell a Digital Product for Immediate Download on Your Blog

April 27, 2010

In a previous post, I discussed how to make money from an astrology blog. An additional income source can come from selling your own ebooks or mp3 recordings of talks you’ve given.

Of course, you can throw a PayPal button up on your site and manually email your customer the file she purchased, but if you have a high-volume business – or just want to minimize your workload in the future – you can set your blog up so that your customer can immediately download her purchase.

There are a few ways to do this, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

aWeber and PayPal

I set up Conquer the Universe With Astrology so that the customer would automatically subscribe to an emailing list after her PayPal purchase. This can be done with AWeber (affiliate link), a highly-reliable email marketing service. You need to follow this tutorial to allow PayPal to communicate with AWeber. (And you don’t have to use PayPal – AWeber is compatible with other payment gateways.) Essentially, PayPal sends an email to AWeber subscribing your customer to a particular mailing list. AWeber sends your customer a confirmation email (to opt-in). After your customer clicks on the link in the email, she is sent her first “follow-up” email. You set up this first email so that (1) it is sent out immediately; and (2) so that it contains a link to the digital download within the body of the follow-up email.

Advantage: Your customer is automatically signed up to an email list, which allows you to send her a combination of updates (“broadcasts”) and more follow-ups. You can pitch more products to her, or just send out weekly forecasts – it’s up to you.

Disadvantages: (1) You have to communicate to the customer that she has to confirm her subscription to your newsletter. Otherwise, she will not be able to receive the follow-up email that contains the link to the digital download. You can set PayPal up so that your customer is sent to a “Thank You” page where you can make it loud and clear that she has to click on the confirmation link. Nonetheless, some customers will not read these instructions, and will email you about why they haven’t received their products. (2) AWeber is expensive. I personally think it’s worth it, because an email list is valuable. However, I would not suggest this option if you don’t plan on making use of a list.

A WordPress Plugin

If you have a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can take advantage of a free plugin at GetShopped. I am currently using this plugin for my Sasstrology Store. After you install it, you can add digital products in your dashboard. After the customer “checks out” using PayPal, she is sent back to a transaction page that includes temporary links to download her purchased ebooks. She also receives an email containing these links.

Advantages: This option requires less work on the customer’s part. Also, the barebones version of the plugin is free.

Disadvantage: You have to worry about plugin compatibility with your current version of WordPress. When I automatically upgraded to the most recent version of the plugin, my store “broke.” I had to delete the plugin and re-upload the older version that I had originally downloaded. Although there is a forum, I’ve seen complaints about product support, and you do need to be savvy with the back end of WordPress to really take advantage of this plugin.


I have no experience with E-Junkie, but I learned about it when poking around at Love Astrology. According to the website, “For merchants selling downloads, we automate and secure the digital delivery of files and codes.” This service can take the headache out of setting up email parsers at AWeber or an e-commerce plugin in WordPress. They have a clearly defined pricing structure based on the number of products you are selling. For example, you can sell up to 10 products for $5 per month, and “there is no limit on the number of sales or bandwidth.”

I can’t really speak of advantages and disadvantages for this service, but it looks like it’s the easiest to implement.

About the Author
Jeffrey Kishner is publisher of Sasstrology. He is also a blog consultant.


Social Media: AOL Takes the Hint

April 24, 2010

aim21A while back I wrote a review on AOL’s Lifestream, a particularly useful app that incorporates various social media streams, like Facebook and Twitter, into one location. While I liked it, I saw one drawback:

Where AOL runs short of a home run is the lack of an easy interface like a button to gather new buddies into your AIM account for private chats. While you can import your email contacts into your buddy lists, you can’t do the same for your Facebook Friends or Twitter followers. Nor do they offer a way to invite people to do so. Without an easy incentive to invite people to reach across social media streams people just won’t, leaving AOL all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Well, it looks like AOL took the hint or got a clue somewhere. Recently they’ve shook hands with Facebook to allow AIM users to import their Facebook friends into AIM chat. No starting with square one here! And that beats Google’s Buzz all to heck, now doesn’t it?

headshotsmallBeth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.

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Mudslinging Part 1: Improving Traffic on Your Astrology Blog

April 14, 2010


If there was a magic bullet to improve [the metrics of your blog] someone would have bottled it and made their first billion dollars. The answer lies not in one strategy, but many. Like one of my corporate bosses used to say “Throw enough mud on the wall and something will have to stick.”

Today we’ll look at strategies to improve your blog traffic. Here is the mud I sling at the wall.

Blog Traffic

Where does your traffic come from? For a long time with the first Astrology Explored, most of my traffic came from the aggregator’s which at the time was Elsa’s Top Ten Astrology News (which is no longer up), Jeffrey Kishner’s Astrology Blogger (same thing). Along around the one year mark, Google started to send me traffic. Apparently, after a year of blogging I made the search engines. It was a very long year. Once Google recognized AE as an authoritative source it sent me 60% of my total traffic. Along the way I learned the following:

Post Often and Regularly

During the first year of AE I made it a point to post everyday. I had a monetary incentive to do so, to be true, since the network paid me per post but it turned out for the best. Having an extensive body of work out there made it juicy pickings for the search engines.

Use Keywords in Your Posts

Yeah, it seems counter intuitive to the creative process, but sprinkling your posts with common astrology keywords is like saying “Here doggy, doggy” to the search engines. Use keywords in your title, and repeat them in your post. It helps, I swear.

Link to Other Blogs

I’ve mentioned before that you should make new friends. You should also link to their blogs. Julie Demboski does it by mentioning posts she likes at the end of her post. I do it by referencing the blog within the piece itself. Either way, when you link to other people, they are likely to return the favor.

List Your Blog in Directories

At one time this was the only way to get your blog noticed. Now there are more social networking tools out there and it is tempting to rely on them. While I personally recommend Networked Blogs through Facebook and Twitter to jump start your blog traffic, you should still spend the time to list your blog with directories. Blog Catalog is good if you take the time to log in fairly regularly and make sure your page is updating with your latest posts. List with Invesp.com and Top Listed.net/astrology at the very least.

Timing is Everything

Get your posts up early. If you are writing about an event in the future, like an eclipse, get your piece up at least a week ahead of the event.

Not Last and Certainly Not Least–Content

Posting regularly is good but not enough. If you want to build your traffic you might find you’ll have to stretch yourself as a writer and astrologer to build a broad body of work that captures the notice of the search engines. Jeffrey Kishner does it by having different writers on his blog, but we all don’t have Jeffrey’s luxury.

Topics that capture search engines’ attention are horoscopes, current events, crime topics, and celebrities. Specific astrological events that get hot play are eclipses, full moons, and equinoxes. Devote some of your posts to these topics and you’ll see an increase in traffic on those days.

Question: How have you improved traffic on your blog?

Image posted under a Creative Commons license from Flickr.


headshotsmallBeth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.

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Three Common Metrics to Measure Your Blog’s Success

April 8, 2010

measurementEllen asked:

I use Google Analytics and am looking for a good article on the 3-5 most important things to track. I can get so lost looking at the data and imagining what it means and what to do about it.

Let’s start at some basics and in future posts we can provide some deeper knowledge. (hint, Jeffrey Kishner!)

Blog Traffic

No one wants to answer this question. What kind of traffic do you need to “arrive” as a substantial blog? What would it take to become something like Sasstrology, the number astrology blog on the net?

Different internet gurus sling about page hits, page views, and unique visitors. Most advertisers are looking for unique visitors, actual people, not spyders or bots that are reading your page. From my experience to place as a notable blog, an authoritative source, you need to break the 100 unique visitor per day mark or 3,000 unique visitors per month. Sasstrology on the other hand has nearly 26,000 unique visitors per month.

That being said, the niche for astrology blogging is very small and even blogs with a few hundred page views per month rate on invesp.com.

Bounce Rate

If someone comes to visit you in your home, you’d like them to stay a while, not bounce right in and out the door. Bounce rate measures whether or not people are staying to look at your content.

One website says this about bounce rate

average bounce rates are 30% and anything above 50% is bad and below 20% is awesome.

There is quick disclaimer that every industry is different, so when it comes to an astrology blog, given the diversity of the material out there a higher bounce rate might not be as bad as you might think.

All that being said, if your bounce rate is below 50% you are doing well.

Length of Time on Page

Once some has come to visit, and decided to stay, the next thing to work on is getting them to stay longer. Again this is an advertising metric, but it also is a measure of how engaging your content is. There is huge variable in the length of time on page from website to website and industry to industry.

As you get more into making money from your blog, you will be motivated to add features and items to entice people to linger over your posts. One insightful blogger noted that when she added YouTube videos to a page she got more revenue through clicks on the ads simply because Google paid higher rates to pages that had a longer length of time on the page.

Again, there is no standard here, but if people spend an average of 2:50 minutes you are doing something right to engage your audience.

Well, Miss Beth, How Do You Improve These Measurements?

If there was a magic bullet to improve any of these things someone would have bottled it and made their first billion dollars. The answer lies not in one strategy, but many. Like one of my corporate bosses used to say “Throw enough mud on the wall and something will have to stick.”

So my next post will be “Mud Slinging”

Photo printed under a Creative Commons License as posted on Flickr.


headshotsmallBeth Turnage authors Astrology Explored as well as being publisher of Astrology Media Press. Beth is available for private consultations. You can contact Beth at starrynightastro@aol.com.

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Astrology, Copyright and Plagiarism

April 6, 2010

pen-and-paperBy Tony Vowles

Blogging is a personal and very rewarding pursuit. Technically it is easy for someone with basic IT skills to produce a website that appears very slick – beautifully designed templates can be slotted in at the click of a few buttons with no need for design or programming skills. All you need to do is author content. This is where the joy of writing comes in – the imagination, the literary skill and the hours poring over content. Personally, I hardly ever read what other astrology bloggers have written on a topic until I’ve written my own – I don’t want to be sidetracked by something mentioned. I also don’t want to subconsciously take it in and end up repeating it. My work is my life blood – my soul is in there and I know it is the same for many others.

So it should come as no surprise that the idea of your work being plagiarised feels almost the same as someone breaking into your house! The question is, what can/do you do about it? I think it’s important to try and distinguish between what is a simple mistake – a lack of understanding of copyright, wanting to share your material (but doing it badly), and outright copying for personal gain. Both happen, perhaps more frequently than we realise. I’ve worked in IT long enough to know that sometimes people do and think the most ridiculous things – believing that a wireless mouse and flat screen monitor speeds up a PC for instance! It’s easy to see how copyright might be a completely alien concept to someone like that – in these cases a gentle reminder should be enough. You never know, the exchange could turn into a friendship – after all, it is nice to know that someone values what you’ve written and want to share it with their network.

So, what of the other type? You’ve no doubt seen them – an exploitation of the ease of creating websites by producing something that has no heart and soul – no personal investment – that investment is being taken from you! There seems to be a great many of these around and from what I can discern their interest is in receiving revenue from ad clicks and bundled offerings. With such a lack of investment from the owners I suspect many wouldn’t last too long. However, it isn’t difficult to create lots of them, exploit keywords for Google placement, and let the pennies roll in – like a cash cow.

We all have to consider how we’d like our content represented – external links provide clickthroughs to our site (which is good) but does it portray our brand in the way we intention? If it doesn’t, then it’s worth considering that our product could be weakened in some way, despite the extra traffic.

Copyright violation is against the law and we do have the ability to close down sites if push comes to shove. Check out this Wikipedia article on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google Analytics helps – we can see an amazing amount of detail about traffic to our site – if you’re not using it then you should be! There are also varying levels of copyright services available to aid us. Copyscape offers a free service where you can input the URL of your page and it scours the internet looking for duplicated content. They also provide a paid premium service for more sophisticated protection.

So, there’s much to consider with copyright and plagiarism. It is complicated; the law is tricky and differs across boundaries. It isn’t always black and white but there are free tools at our disposal to help fight it. If you know of other tools and utilities then fill up the comments section here with your ideas!


tony-vowlesHailing from the UK, Tony calls himself an amateur astrologer and social networker. He has been studying Astrology for about 20 years on and off and also has a background and interest in Martial Arts and Zen Buddhism. His astrology blog is aptly named The Astrology Blog

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How to Respond to Requests for Free Advice

March 31, 2010

As a professional astrologer who – by virtue of having a blog – is perceived as available, you’re likely to receive requests for free advice. After all, you’re an expert. You might get hit up in your comments section, via email (if you make that available on your Contact page), or even on Facebook.

Many readers do not seem to understand that many astrologers want to make a living as astrologers. These readers feel entitled to free advice or information. I would attribute this attitude to a misunderstanding of the vast amount of resources an aspiring student must spend on becoming adept in this field. Perhaps you just know this stuff, because you were “born with it.” (I think Julie Demboski articulated this hypothesis.) Not that you spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours on books, classes, teachers, conferences and software.

Another reason a reader may feel entitled to free advice is that our culture does not respect the divination arts. It may seem paradoxical that someone would want help from a professional whose art is devalued, but I think there’s truth to it. As a matter of fact, anything that reeks of feminine is devalued. Doctors and lawyers (masculine or Logos fields) are paid well, whereas social workers and teachers are not.

Be that as it may, some readers just have a sense of entitlement, or they just don’t know where your line in the sand is – partly because every astrologer has different boundaries. Some will be happy to answer detailed questions because they think it will get them paying clients, or because they just want to help, or because they think more activity in the comments section will make their blog more popular. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re feeling used or burned out or taken advantage of by your readers, you need to find ways to say, “No.”

I cannot provide a script, because everyone will set their boundaries differently. But if someone writes you with their birth information or their planetary vitals and wants to know when X will happen or why Z always occurs, it helps to have a response at the ready.

Some possible responses:

  • Unfortunately, I cannot make the time to answer specific chart-related questions in the comments section (or via email), because I want to devote my energies towards writing an excellent blog and serving my paying clients. If you are interested in scheduling a consultation, please see my Services page.
  • That’s a great question. I feel confident that you can learn more about it at [this link].
  • I’m sorry to hear about that. I’d love to be able to help you find some perspective – please see my Services page to learn about consultations. But if you’re strapped right now, [these computerized reports] might be able to help, or you can find some comforting words about Saturn transits [here].

The key is to not come across as angry or defensive. Just communicate that your time is at a premium, and that you are not available for freebies. You may still want to rant about it, but honestly, I don’t know how much it serves anyone to take it out on your readers. You don’t need to justify your answer, you just need to set a boundary that you’re comfortable with, and stick to it.

If you’re feeling guilty about saying, “No,” do some soul-searching to figure out why. Are you afraid that you won’t be liked, or that you’ll lose a reader, or that you’re being unspiritual by not helping a soul in need? Do some writing exercises or talk to a trusted friend to process these emotions, because codependence is a recipe for burnout and resentment.

Comment below: How do you respond to requests for free astrological advice?

About the Author
Jeffrey Kishner is publisher of Sasstrology. He is also a blog consultant.