October 14, 2017

GST on blogging income in India: Doubts cleared about income limit

This article is on applicability of Goods and Services Tax on blogging income, and relates to bloggers in India or advertisers / ad networks/ affiliates selling ads to Indian bloggers.
We carried this article earlier on applicability of Goods and Services Tax on bloggers in India. The information given in the article is still valid to the extent it has not been edited there, and some new clarifications have come from taxation experts and government. 

Many bloggers have petitioned CBEC and we at ITB have given them written representations and requested them on their Twitter handle to clear bloggers' doubts, but they seem to be busy in bigger things and have not given convincing answers except some that I have quoted in this post. Some taxation experts have interpreted the law in detail as it applies to bloggers. But after the GST Council meeting on 6.10.2017, there is great relief to bloggers. 

No GST for blogging income up to Rs. 20 lakh

Before the latest decision of GST Council, all  bloggers who earned anything by selling their services attracted GST. There was no exemption  regarding applicability of the limit of Rs. 20 lakh for bloggers because they traded in inter-state services.

The good news is that all service providers of any kind are now exempt from registration and payment of GST if their turnover is less than Rs. 20 lakh. Pl look at the factoid issued by CBEC on 6th October:

GST for bloggers

 This was followed by a tweet on FAQs, issued on 12th October:

No GST for bloggers in India

So, this clears all doubt that small bloggers with turnover below Rs. 20 lakh (=2 million)do not require to register for GST or pay this tax.

October 10, 2017

7 proven SEO best practices for new blogs

When you create a blog for the first time, the thrill of it being there is immense, isn't it? You preview it, make changes in color/ design/ layout/ whatever else the theme allows, write something, publish it and again view it...

That happens, whether it is a hobby blog or a professional blog. In the second case, when you start the blog with the aim to earn money, worries start when it does not get the projected number of visitors because traffic is the basic requirement for the blog's earnings, isn't it.

SEO or search engine optimization is a set of techniques that make the blog come high on search pages when people search for something on the web. What we observe is that in a hurry to get lots of traffic, new bloggers adopt SEO practices that are either not effective or are not really necessary for new blogs or are harmful in the long run because they are unethical. 

Let's go straight to what are the SEO best practices for new blogs.


1. Give the blog a memorable and relevant identity.

Since yours is a new blog, the world needs to know it. So, give it a small and memorable URL, an apt title and a crisp description. 

While humans are influenced by a good identity, search engines get good inputs for indexing the blog when the URL, title and description point towards the topic of the blog. 

Google likes 'relevant' identities. It also says, it thinks websites in which there is an 'About us' page are likely to be more real and genuine.  

Relevant identity helps in SEO.

2. Promote the blog, especially when it is new.

A new blog must be shared so that people know that it exists. All good writing will fail if the blog is not discovered, and it will take years for it to get discovered on the strength of quality. So, promotion is very important to give the first push to the blog, and sharing it on different platforms is the easiest and cleanest way of promotion. 

Promote the blog as well as individual posts. Share them on social media, write about a new post to other bloggers/ influencers/ friends, share it on bookmarking sites (e.g. StumbleUpon).  

Do not look cheap while promoting it, don't over-promote. 

When your blog is shared on different platforms, and other websites refer to it, search engines take note and use this feature to rank the blog for search. 

Share blog for more traffic, good SEO.

3. Engage, participate on social media.

Bloggers need to be active on social media so that people discover the blog and know about its updates. But engaging is much more than self-promotion; it requires that you discuss topics, comment on others' writings, offer help if needed, join (and participate in) communities/ groups/ forums, and so on - and not ask others to favor you, like your post, put a link of your blog on theirs, etc.  

Engagement is not directly a signal for search engines, but when others share and talk about the blog in a natural, appreciative way, that is a great signal!

Engage on social media for more traffic, good SEO signals.

4. Gain authority by maintaining high quality.

A professional blog needs to gain reputation of being very informative, highly resourceful, having expert opinion, genuine, and with high-quality content.

Authority needs quality, which in turn comes from hard work, research, good quality of language and originality. 

Do not copy-paste others' content. Do not fake yourself as expert in areas where you really are not expert.

A website's authority is the topmost parameter that Google is reported to be looking when deciding the ranking of websites for search.

Authority and genuineness is what Google likes the most on websites.

5. Write regularly.

Blogs are liked by search engines more than static websites because blogs keep producing fresh content. People are likely to soon desert a blog if they don't find it updating itself. 

Make a schedule of posting and stick to it.

Google insiders have often been writing that Google likes fresh, updated, content.

Blogs must be updated regularly.

6. Proactive link-building is a must for SEO.

When other websites link to your blog, Google and other search engines get a signal that your blog has content relevant to the subject for which it has been linked. If you get such a link from a highly reputed and popular site, you get that much better ranking for search. 

Links come naturally when your blog and its posts have authority but you need to work to get links - and you should get links mostly from authoritative site.

For natural link-building, link your URL when making comments on others' blogs or websites; even request well-placed bloggers to consider a link yo your blog if your blog supplements the information given by them in their blog.

You must link your older posts on new posts when talking about the same topic. That not only leads to re-discovery of old content but also increases the relevance of your blog post to that topic, in the eyes of Google.

However, avoid link farms, link exchanges, links from bad sites and links in return for link back.

Link-building still is very important for search optimization.

7. Keyword optimization is very important for professional blogs/ websites. 

Well, some experts might tell you that keyword optimization comes on top of SEO. I have kept it as the last SEO technique because it is so obvious but is prone to over-doing. It is also the last as I will like to discuss some more about it from a newbie blogger's point of view.

Search engines regularly look at websites all over the world wide web, and then they index web-pages topic wise. When someone makes a search, they do not search the whole web but look for the search expression in this index

The best way for search engines to know the search expressions for which your blog should be indexed, is to look at your blog's identity (URL etc) and the content. 

If your blog is on 'climate patters in north Europe', Google will likely index it for 'climate' and 'Europe' if it finds the blog full of content in these topics. Google and other modern search engines apply syntax and related connotations of the exact words in the query to decide what to serve to the searcher. Now, if somebody searches for 'climate in Germany' and your blog is a great resource on climate in north Europe, it is likely to come high on the search page.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance that you not only write great stuff on the topic of your blog, you must also optimize your posts (and URL, title and description of the blog) for the expressions (=keywords) people are likely to search for.

In the above example, your blog URL could be europeclimate.com (If it is not already taken!), its title may be 'All that you know about the climate and weather patterns in northern Europe', its description could answer what/ how/ where and other questions about north Europe's climate. In individual posts, you will definitely be writing about all aspects of Europe's climate, will be giving impactful headings to each post, placing good photos and illustrations on most posts, composing some static pages on the broader topic 'climate', and putting the keywords here and there in the post but in a natural way.  

Do not stuff posts or identities with keywords. Use variations. In the above example, if you talk about wind patterns, heat maps, seasons, individual country's climate etc - they all will count towards 'climate patterns' and you need not (and should not) overly use the specific expression 'climate patterns' in the copy.  

Keywords tell search engines whether the website is relevant for a topic.

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October 6, 2017

Bias against Blogger platform: doctored by Wordpress users?

On any discussion on blogging, you come across a debate whether Blogger is better or Wordpress. In most cases, the winner is Wordpress.  But in nine out of ten cases, the debate itself is flawed because you cannot compare apples with oranges.

I feel, and most Blogger users will agree, that most of this bias is deliberate, though in some part it could be due to ignorance. Perhaps because the Wordpress users' loyalty and their sense of superiority over Blogger users does not allow them to remain unbiased. Perhaps there are commercial reason (which I'd explain later).

Let's see the facts. 

How Blogger and Wordpress really compare

  • Blogger is a free blogging platform, which you can reach through blogger.com. Similarly Wordpress has a free blogging platform - which you reach through wordpress.com.
  • Blogger and Wordpress free platforms have many similar features that make it very easy for bloggers to open blogs with a few clicks and further customize them using free tools.
  • Millions of blogs are created using these free platforms.
  • Blogger is just one entity - the blogging platform.  Wordpress has two similar looking products. Besides the free blogging platform, it also has Wordpress Content Management System (CMS), which can by reached through wordpress.org. 
  • A CMS is something like a website builder. Millions of blogs and websites are built using Wordpress CMS. The CMS is very user friendly, customizable, stable and secure.

Myths around Wordpress superiority over Blogger

  • "Wordpress runs 25% of the web." It is not a myth if you consider Wordpress CMS because among all available CMSs, Wordpress is supposed to be the most popular, especially for blogs. But it is a myth when it is touted in favor of the free Wordpress platform.
  • "Wordpress is so customizable while Blogger is just dumb." This is not only a myth but its opposite is true when you compare the free platforms. A blogger on Wordpress.com cannot customize the blog without paying money for every additional feature beyond the basics: he cannot monetize it, put videos on it, put widgets and plugins beyond what is allowed by the platform, change the code of the blog and so on. Even mapping the free blog to an independent domain costs you. [On the other hand, Wordpress CMS is fully customizable - but everything is to be paid for and the CMS is just a software that is available free.] On Blogger platform, you can customize almost everything including the code of the blog!
  • "Wordpress blogs look professional while Blogger blogs don't." Well, there are themes available for Wordpress blogs (the free blog can use only one of the few approved ones) and can be applied on the blog on payment. Blogger's inbuilt themes too have limitations - but, you can apply themes available free or on payment - and Blogger doen't charge for that, unlike Wordpress! In addition, if you are a coder (or have some HTML knowledge and want to experiment), you can yourself customize the available theme in zillion ways.
  • "Forget Blogger if you want to be a professional blogger." This is preposterous when you compare the free platforms. Blogger allows you customization, monetization and mapping to an independent domain - the three requirements of professional blogging. Wordpress.com allows none of these for free. [Yes, if you are talking about Wordpress CMS, there is no doubt that with its range of tools and options, it is a great platform for professional blogging (but then, you pay for everything except the CMS).]

The truth, therefore, is that diehard Wordpress fans force people to compare Blogger free platform with Wordpress CMS and Wordpress free blogging platform together. What do they get out of this, you might ask. This is what I reckon:
  • Like all fans, Wordpress fans too are highly biased in favor of their muse. Like other fans they too are blind. Just so that Wordpress is liked by all, they let the mix up happen between the CMS and free Wordpress platform.
  • Users of Wordpress CMS, even when they are not its fans, love it. And because they use the  product, they tend to be proud of it and turn its brand ambassadors. This form of praising Wordpress over other CMSs and blogging platforms is natural and mostly not with any bad intent towards competitors of Wordpress.
  • The all-pervasive anti-Google feeling. Geeks and nerds of IT world are a sentimental type. They love and hate IT biggies. They do not like arrogance, they don't like exploitation, they also don't like monopolies. You will find thousands of them hating Microsoft for its proprietary products; they worship Steve Jobs for his creativity; they hack government sites; when they compare Wordpress with Google's Blogger, they favor the former. Well, if they come to read this, they will find it absurd, nonsense. But that is how it works!
  • People who have a commercial intent in promoting Wordpress obviously praise it and deprecate all others. Since almost everything around Wordpress (themes, integration/ migration, web hosting, site design...)
    needs payment, thousands of techies and intermediaries earn by recommending Wordpress and then offering products and services related to Wordpress.  
  • The worst form of conduct in this game/ debate comes from those who have commercial intent but hide it behind myths and distorted information. They show themselves as great votaries of quality websites... they claim to be great experts... they present false or exaggerated or out-of-context quotes from supposedly great bloggers... Somewhere in their great 'unbiased' advice, they hide the 'call to action' so that gullible folks are trapped. 

Please do not misunderstand me, Wordpress fans. I am not saying Wordpress is bad; in fact, I love Wordpress CMS. I am against wrong opinions. Let people be shown the pros and cons of all available options, in a dispassionate manner, so that they choose the product that suits them the best.

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