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      How To Troubleshoot Issues in MySQL


      Introduction

      MySQL is an open-source relational database management system (RDBMS), the most popular of its kind in the world. As is the case when working with any software, both newcomers and experienced users can run into confusing error messages or difficult-to-diagnose problems.

      This guide will serve as a troubleshooting resource and starting point as you diagnose your MySQL setup. We’ll go over some of the issues that many MySQL users encounter and provide guidance for troubleshooting specific problems. We will also include links to DigitalOcean tutorials and the official MySQL documentation that may be useful in certain cases.

      Please note that this guide assumes the setup described in How To Install MySQL on Ubuntu 18.04, and the linked tutorials throughout the guide reflect this configuration. If your server is running another distribution, however, you can find a guide specific to that distro in the Tutorial Version Menu at the top of the linked tutorials when one is available.

      How To Get Started with MySQL

      The place where many first-time users of MySQL run into a problem is during the installation and configuration process. Our guide on How To Install MySQL on Ubuntu 18.04 provides instructions on how to set up a basic configuration and may be helpful to those new to MySQL.

      Another reason some users run into issues is that their application requires database features that are only present in the latest releases, but the version of MySQL available in the default repositories of some Linux distributions — including Ubuntu — isn’t the latest version. For this reason, the MySQL developers maintain their own software repository, which you can use to install the latest version and keep it up to date. Our tutorial “How To Install the Latest MySQL on Ubuntu 18.04” provides instructions on how to do this.

      How to Access MySQL Error Logs

      Oftentimes, the root cause of slowdowns, crashes, or other unexpected behavior in MySQL can be determined by analyzing its error logs. On Ubuntu systems, the default location for the MySQL is /var/log/mysql/error.log. In many cases, the error logs are most easily read with the less program, a command line utility that allows you to view files but not edit them:

      • sudo less /var/log/mysql/error.log

      If MySQL isn’t behaving as expected, you can obtain more information about the source of the trouble by running this command and diagnosing the error based on the log’s contents.

      Resetting the root MySQL User’s Password

      If you’ve set a password for your MySQL installation’s root user but have since forgotten it, you could be locked out of your databases. As long as you have access to the server on which your database is hosted, though, you should be able to reset it.

      This process differs from resetting the password for a standard Linux username. Check out our guide on How To Reset Your MySQL or MariaDB Root Password to walk through and understand this process.

      Troubles with Queries

      Sometimes users run into problems once they begin issuing queries on their data. In some database systems, including MySQL, query statements in must end in a semicolon (;) for the query to complete, as in the following example:

      If you fail to include a semicolon at the end of your query, the prompt will continue on a new line until you complete the query by entering a semicolon and pressing ENTER.

      Some users may find that their queries are exceedingly slow. One way to find which query statement is the cause of a slowdown is to enable and view MySQL's slow query log. To do this, open your mysqld.cnf file, which is used to configure options for the MySQL server. This file is typically stored within the /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/ directory:

      • sudo nano /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      Scroll through the file until you see the following lines:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      #slow_query_log         = 1
      #slow_query_log_file    = /var/log/mysql/mysql-slow.log
      #long_query_time = 2
      #log-queries-not-using-indexes
      . . .
      

      These commented-out directives provide MySQL's default configuration options for the slow query log. Specifically, here's what each of them do:

      • slow-query-log: Setting this to 1 enables the slow query log.
      • slow-query-log-file: This defines the file where MySQL will log any slow queries. In this case, it points to the /var/log/mysql-slow.log file.
      • long_query_time: By setting this directive to 2, it configures MySQL to log any queries that take longer than 2 seconds to complete.
      • log_queries_not_using_indexes: This tells MySQL to also log any queries that run without indexes to the /var/log/mysql-slow.log file. This setting isn't required for the slow query log to function, but it can be helpful for spotting inefficient queries.

      Uncomment each of these lines by removing the leading pound signs (#). The section will now look like this:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      slow_query_log = 1
      slow_query_log_file = /var/log/mysql-slow.log
      long_query_time = 2
      log_queries_not_using_indexes
      . . .
      

      Note: If you're running MySQL 8+, these commented lines will not be in the mysqld.cnf file by default. In this case, add the following lines to the bottom of the file:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      slow_query_log = 1
      slow_query_log_file = /var/log/mysql-slow.log
      long_query_time = 2
      log_queries_not_using_indexes
      

      After enabling the slow query log, save and close the file. Then restart the MySQL service:

      • sudo systemctl restart mysql

      With these settings in place, you can find problematic query statements by viewing the slow query log. You can do so with less, like this:

      • sudo less /var/log/mysql_slow.log

      Once you've singled out the queries causing the slowdown, you may find our guide on How To Optimize Queries and Tables in MySQL and MariaDB on a VPS to be helpful with optimizing them.

      Additionally, MySQL includes the EXPLAIN statement, which provides information about how MySQL executes queries. This page from the official MySQL documentation provides insight on how to use EXPLAIN to highlight inefficient queries.

      For help with understanding basic query structures, see our Introduction to MySQL Queries.

      Allowing Remote Access

      Many websites and applications start off with their web server and database backend hosted on the same machine. With time, though, a setup like this can become cumbersome and difficult to scale. A common solution is to separate these functions by setting up a remote database, allowing the server and database to grow at their own pace on their own machines.

      One of the more common problems that users run into when trying to set up a remote MySQL database is that their MySQL instance is only configured to listen for local connections. This is MySQL's default setting, but it won't work for a remote database setup since MySQL must be able to listen for an external IP address where the server can be reached. To enable this, open up your mysqld.cnf file:

      • sudo nano /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      Navigate to the line that begins with the bind-address directive. It will look like this:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      lc-messages-dir = /usr/share/mysql
      skip-external-locking
      #
      # Instead of skip-networking the default is now to listen only on
      # localhost which is more compatible and is not less secure.
      bind-address            = 127.0.0.1
      . . .
      

      By default, this value is set to 127.0.0.1, meaning that the server will only look for local connections. You will need to change this directive to reference an external IP address. For the purposes of troubleshooting, you could set this directive to a wildcard IP address, either *, ::, or 0.0.0.0:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      lc-messages-dir = /usr/share/mysql
      skip-external-locking
      #
      # Instead of skip-networking the default is now to listen only on
      # localhost which is more compatible and is not less secure.
      bind-address            = 0.0.0.0
      . . .
      

      Note: If you're running MySQL 8+, the bind-address directive will not be in the mysqld.cnf file by default. In this case, add the following highlighted line to the bottom of the file:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      [mysqld]
      pid-file        = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.pid
      socket          = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock
      datadir         = /var/lib/mysql
      log-error       = /var/log/mysql/error.log
      bind-address            = 0.0.0.0
      

      After changing this line, save and close the file and then restart the MySQL service:

      • sudo systemctl restart mysql

      Following this, try accessing your database remotely from another machine:

      • mysql -u user -h database_server_ip -p

      If you're able to access your database, it confirms that the bind-address directive in your configuration file was the issue. Please note, though, that setting bind-address to 0.0.0.0 is insecure as it allows connections to your server from any IP address. On the other hand, if you're still unable to access the database remotely, then something else may be causing the issue. In either case, you may find it helpful to follow our guide on How To Set Up a Remote Database to Optimize Site Performance with MySQL on Ubuntu 18.04 to set up a more secure remote database configuration.

      MySQL Stops Unexpectedly or Fails to Start

      The most common cause of crashes in MySQL is that it stopped or failed to start due to insufficient memory. To check this, you will need to review the MySQL error log after a crash.

      First, attempt to start the MySQL server by typing:

      • sudo systemctl start mysql

      Then review the error logs to see what's causing MySQL to crash. You can use less to review your logs, one page at a time:

      • sudo less /var/log/mysql/error.log

      Some common messages that would indicate an insufficient amount of memory are Out of memory or mmap can't allocate.

      Potential solutions to an inadequate amount of memory are:

      • Optimizing your MySQL configuration. A great open-source tool for this is MySQLtuner. Running the MySQLtuner script will output a set of recommended adjustments to your MySQL configuration file (mysqld.cnf). Note that the longer your server has been running before using MySQLTuner, the more accurate its suggestions will be. To get a memory usage estimate of both your current settings and those proposed by MySQLTimer, use this MySQL Calculator.

      • Reducing your web application’s reliance on MySQL for page loads. This can usually be done by adding static caching to your application. Examples for this include Joomla, which has caching as a built-in feature that can be enabled, and WP Super Cache, a WordPress plugin that adds this kind of functionality.

      • Upgrading to a larger VPS. At minimum, we recommend a server with at least 1GB of RAM for any server using a MySQL database, but the size and type of your data can significantly affect memory requirements.

      Take note that even though upgrading your server is a potential solution, it's only recommended after you investigate and weigh all of your other options. An upgraded server with more resources will likewise cost more money, so you should only go through with resizing if it truly ends up being your best option. Also note that the MySQL documentation includes a number of other suggestions for diagnosing and preventing crashes.

      Corrupted Tables

      Occasionally, MySQL tables can become corrupted, meaning that an error has occurred and the data held within them is unreadable. Attempts to read from a corrupted table will usually lead to the server crashing.

      Some common causes of corrupted tables are:

      • The MySQL server stops in middle of a write.
      • An external program modifies a table that's simultaneously being modified by the server.
      • The machine is shut down unexpectedly.
      • The computer hardware fails.
      • There's a software bug somewhere in the MySQL code.

      If you suspect that one of your tables has been corrupted, you should make a backup of your data directory before troubleshooting or attempting to fix the table. This will help to minimize the risk of data loss.

      First, stop the MySQL service:

      • sudo systemctl stop mysql

      Then copy all of your data into a new backup directory. On Ubuntu systems, the default data directory is /var/lib/mysql/:

      • cp -r /var/lib/mysql /var/lib/mysql_bkp

      After making the backup, you're ready to begin investigating whther the table is in fact corrupted. If the table uses the MyISAM storage engine, you can check whether it's corrupted by running a CHECK TABLE statement from the MySQL prompt:

      A message will appear in this statement's output letting you know whether or not it's corrupted. If the MyISAM table is indeed corrupted, it can usually be repaired by issuing a REPAIR TABLE statement:

      Assuming the repair was successful, you will see a message like the following in your output:

      Output

      +--------------------------+--------+----------+----------+ | Table | Op | Msg_type | Msg_text | +--------------------------+--------+----------+----------+ | database_name.table_name | repair | status | OK | +--------------------------+--------+----------+----------+

      If the table is still corrupted, though, the MySQL documentation suggests a few alternative methods for repairing corrupted tables.

      On the other hand, if the corrupted table uses the InnoDB storage engine, then the process for repairing it will be different. InnoDB is the default storage engine in MySQL as of version 5.5, and it features automated corruption checking and repair operations. InnoDB checks for corrupted pages by performing checksums on every page it reads, and if it finds a checksum discrepancy it will automatically stop the MySQL server.

      There is rarely a need to repair InnoDB tables, as InnoDB features a crash recovery mechanism that can resolve most issues when the server is restarted. However, if you do encounter a situation where you need to rebuild a corrupted InnoDB table, the MySQL documentation recommends using the "Dump and Reload" method. This involves regaining access to the corrupted table, using the mysqldump utility to create a logical backup of the table, which will retain the table structure and the data within it, and then reloading the table back into the database.

      With that in mind, try restarting the MySQL service to see if doing so will allow you access to the server:

      • sudo systemctl restart mysql

      If the server remains crashed or otherwise inaccessible, then it may be helpful to enable InnoDB's force_recovery option. You can do this by editing the mysqld.cnf file:

      • sudo nano /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      In the [mysqld] section, add the following line:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      [mysqld]
      . . .
      innodb_force_recovery=1
      

      Save and close the file, and then try restarting the MySQL service again. If you can successfully access the corrupted table, use the mysqldump utility to dump your table data to a new file. You can name this file whatever you like, but here we'll name it out.sql:

      • mysqldump database_name table_name > out.sql

      Then drop the table from the database. To avoid having to reopen the MySQL prompt, you can use the following syntax:

      • mysql -u user -p --execute="DROP TABLE database_name.table_name"

      Following this, restore the table with the dump file you just created:

      • mysql -u user -p < out.sql

      Note that the InnoDB storage engine is generally more fault-tolerant than the older MyISAM engine. Tables using InnoDB can still be corrupted, but because of its auto-recovery features the risk of table corruption and crashes is decidedly lower.

      Socket Errors

      MySQL manages connections to the database server through the use of a socket file, a special kind of file that facilitates communications between different processes. The MySQL server's socket file is named mysqld.sock and on Ubuntu systems it's usually stored in the /var/run/mysqld/ directory. This file is created by the MySQL service automatically.

      Sometimes, changes to your system or your MySQL configuration can result in MySQL being unable to read the socket file, preventing you from gaining access to your databases. The most common socket error looks like this:

      Output

      ERROR 2002 (HY000): Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock' (2)

      There are a few reasons why this error may occur, and a few potential ways to resolve it.

      One common cause of this error is that the MySQL service is stopped or did not start to begin with, meaning that it was unable to create the socket file in the first place. To find out if this is the reason you're seeing this error, try starting the service with systemctl:

      • sudo systemctl start mysql

      Then try accessing the MySQL prompt again. If you still receive the socket error, double check the location where your MySQL installation is looking for the socket file. This information can be found in the mysqld.cnf file:

      • sudo nano /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysql.cnf

      Look for the socket parameter in the [mysqld] section of this file. It will look like this:

      /etc/mysql/mysql.conf.d/mysqld.cnf

      . . .
      [mysqld]
      user            = mysql
      pid-file        = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.pid
      socket          = /var/run/mysqld/mysqld.sock
      port            = 3306
      . . .
      

      Close this file, then ensure that the mysqld.sock file exists by running an ls command on the directory where MySQL expects to find it:

      If the socket file exists, you will see it in this command's output:

      Output

      . .. mysqld.pid mysqld.sock mysqld.sock.lock

      If the file does not exist, the reason may be that MySQL is trying to create it, but does not have adequate permissions to do so. You can ensure that the correct permissions are in place by changing the directory's ownership to the mysql user and group:

      • sudo chown mysql:mysql /var/run/mysqld/

      Then ensure that the mysql user has the appropriate permissions over the directory. Setting these to 775 will work in most cases:

      • sudo chmod -R 755 /var/run/mysqld/

      Finally, restart the MySQL service so it can attempt to create the socket file again:

      • sudo systemctl restart mysql

      Then try accessing the MySQL prompt once again. If you still encounter the socket error, there's likely a deeper issue with your MySQL instance, in which case you should review the error log to see if it can provide any clues.

      Conclusion

      MySQL serves as the backbone of countless data-driven applications and websites. With so many use cases, there are as many potential causes of errors. Likewise, there are also many different ways to resolve such errors. We've covered some of the most frequently encountered errors in this guide, but there are many more that could come up depending on how your own application works with MySQL.

      If you weren't able to find a solution to your particular problem, we hope that this guide will at least give you some background into MySQL troubleshooting and help you find the source of your errors. For more information, you can look at the official MySQL documentation, which covers the topics we have discussed here as well as other troubleshooting strategies.

      Additionally, if your MySQL database is hosted on a DigitalOcean Droplet, you can contact our Support team for further assistance.



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      Make Your Website Merry and Bright with These 10 Holiday Marketing Ideas


      The bright and cheery season is finally here!

      String up the twinkling lights, bust out your ugliest sweater, and get to work decking out your website.

      via GIPHY

      Wait?

      Work during the holidays?!

      Yeah, I do sound like the Grinch right now. But getting festive for Festivus (and all the other major end-of-year holidays) can actually give your website more chances to unwrap extra visitors.

      If your cup of ideas isn’t running over, we’ve got you covered. Our gift to you? Ten great ways to freshen up your website for the holidays. Batteries not included.

      Before You Get Started

      Before you delve too deep in creating new holiday campaigns, take the time to look at the results of your holiday promotions from last year. Hopefully, you already did this when you were prepping your website for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But if not, let’s refresh!

      Let Your Goals Guide

      First, take a moment to reflect. What are your company goals? And what do you need to get out of the holiday shopping season: more sales, leads, or subscribers? Every action you take, including fun holiday marketing campaigns, should drive toward those goals.

      If the campaign you’ve got in mind won’t help you achieve your goals, put that idea on the naughty list.

      Review Last Year

      Which promotions registered with customers last December? Which ones fell flat? Before you put fingers to keyboard, take a look at last year’s results and build from there.

      Plan Out Sales in Advance

      Run the numbers to find out what deals you can afford to offer during the holidays. Then use this information to help you choose which holidays ideas to implement on your website.

      Analyze Your Channels

      You need to know how you’re going to spread the word about your holiday campaigns and promotions. So ask yourself: Do you have an email subscriber list? How strong is your social media presence? Is one platform stronger than the others? Have you ever used PPC?

      Scout Out the Competition

      What have your competitors done for the holidays that you could tweak for your specific audience? Make a list. You can even look to big brands for ideas (lots of inspiration coming your way).

      Got all that? Okay, on to the ideas!

      10 Holiday Ideas to Brighten Up Your Website

      1. Make Sure Your Website is Ready for the Season

      First things first, let’s get technical to make sure your website is geared up and ready for the season.

      You can do this by checking with your hosting provider to plan for any surges in traffic. If you need to upgrade for more resources, do it before the holidays hit. That way, you won’t run into issues when all those visitors come knocking on your website’s door to get your holiday deals.

      Next, make sure your payment gateway can handle more transactions. You may also want to consider upgrading your services to accept more forms of payments and double check your security features. The gifts of convenience and security are the type of holiday cheer your customers will appreciate.

      Need a baller payment gateway for your website? Here are 10 can’t-miss options.

      Finally, optimize to reduce your site’s load times. I could give you a mile-long checklist for this, but you’re busy — I get it. Instead, try these ten speedy-site tips, and then test your site’s performance with Google’s PageSpeed Insights.

      Now, you’re ready to roll!

      2. Dress Your Website up for the Holidays

      Your customers are used to your website’s regular look, and that’s great — for most of the year. When the holidays roll around, though, consider giving your site a little extra sparkle.

      Take caffeine juggernaut Starbucks.

      Everyone is used to the company’s white-and-green siren, but come November 1, Starbucks’ cups get a little more festive.

      Obviously, your website isn’t a paper cup. So when it comes to zhuzhing up your homepage, a lot of jingle can go all the way. Let’s look at a brand that does holiday cheer well: Bath and Body Works.

      As soon as visitors hit the website, they are greeted with twinkling snowflakes and a giant, festive banner image. Even their promotion code is cheery: SNOWFALL.

      One word of warning (and good, old-fashioned marketing advice): know your audience.

      When you opt to make your branding more holiday-themed, pay attention to how your customers receive it. If you’re worried, solicit customer feedback, run some A/B tests, or hold a focus group.

      You don’t want to catch any flack — like Starbucks often does — for being too much this way, not enough that way.

      3. Use Your Email Marketing List

      Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in making sure your website is perfectly festive. However, it’s vital to remember that many customers won’t see it — unless you email them with a link and a good reason to return to your homepage.

      Long-time readers and first-time commenters alike will probably remember that we’ve gone in-depth before on why website owners need to get serious about email marketing.

      It’s the single-most-effective marketing tactic for awareness, acquisition, conversion, and retention. You want a slice of that pie!

      WordPress users! Learn how to build your own email subscriber list directly on the platform.

      Most of all remember that your subscribers opted into your email list for a reason: they want to hear from you! Don’t forget to wish them well this holiday season and share your good news.

      After all, who doesn’t love a killer sale like this offer from Legacybox?

      4. Make ‘Em Laugh

      Sometimes the best way to get your website visitors in the holiday spirit is to make them laugh.

      Of course, how you do this is largely up to you and what works for your brand.

      JibJab allows visitors to personalize hilarious videos and send them to friends and family. Each year, the site offers a series of customizable holiday cards that are bound to make their customers laugh, share, and repeat.

      Kmart is another brand that has used humor to increase sales during the holidays.

      While the Jingle Joes might not “resonate” with everyone, the use of humor is a good way to stand out during a very competitive shopping season.

      Lastly, don’t be afraid to go dark. Like real dark.

      For a lot of people, getting together with family for the holidays isn’t a friggin’ Hallmark movie. HotelTonight took all those bad feels and translated them into this dark-comedy dream.

      You don’t have to be a hotel booking website to pull this off either. Get creative and think about your specific target audience. The world is your air mattress — erm — oyster.

      5. Put Together a Holiday Gift Package

      No matter what products or services you offer, you can group them together during the holiday season and offer a holiday combo on your website.

      Dollar Shave Club nails it each year. 

      As you can see, the shave kit is exactly like the ones they offer every other month of the year.

      So what’s changed?

      Only the context! The Elf on the Shelf signals holiday hijinks are afoot without the brand having to do any repackaging of their product.

      This time of year, people like to see holiday promotions. Even if you are selling the same old thing, dress up the way you promote to match the season.

      6. Drum Up Interest

      Almost everyone has a hard time waiting for the holidays (even if you can’t wait for them to be over, amirite, Scrooge?). But as a website owner, you can use all that anticipation to drive hype for your business.

      Take H&M. The brand created a short trailer to tease its 2017 holiday collaboration with Nicki Minaj.

      I don’t know about you, but I’m a huge fan of all things H&M and Nicki Minaj, so even before the final campaign dropped, I knew I’d be checking out H&M’s latest gear. #MarketingSuccess

      Of course, if you don’t have the budget to hire a mega-watt celebrity to headline your holiday campaigns (pssst, have you heard of micro-influencers?), then you can always build hype the old-fashioned way: with a countdown!

      Ellen famously does the “12 Days of Giveaways,” and it’s hugely successful. Hitch your sleigh to that idea by doing 12 days of promotions, deals, even blog content — anything that will resonate with your customers.

      There is nothing naughty about leaning into the sense of urgency and excitement that comes with the holidays.

      7. Promote Your Expertise

      If there’s one thing for certain about the holiday season, it’s this: people gain weight. Yeah, your pants aren’t lying; holiday weight gain is real. And so is the motivation to lose the weight come January 1.

      Don’t worry I’m going somewhere with this.

      If you are a brand that holds a special level of expertise on a holiday-related topic, then the time is now to jump in and start sharing.

      For example, if you are a doctor, wellness coach, purveyor of health supplements, or self-styled weight-loss guru, then focus your content on how people can stay healthy during the holidays.

      Need an example? It’s like that one time we talked about tech-themed horror movies for Halloween. Look for a niche that you have expertise in and find a way to tie it to the season.

      Content win!

      8. Get Real With Your Followers

      Not like Drunk Uncle real. I mean genuine. The holidays are a great time to share what your brand is really about.

      Take Samsung for example.

      Their “Unwrap the Feels” video captures the spirit of the holidays by showing a collection of darling families gathering together. It’s so darn charming, that by the end, you might get a bit misty-eyed — and want to purchase some of Samsung’s magical family-bringing-together products.

      You don’t have to pull heartstrings to win hearts, though.

      If you are getting jolly around the office, let your customers in on the fun. Chances are they’ll be interested in the team that keeps their favorite products on the market.

      When you hold an office party or volunteer for a charity project, make sure you share the real, unfiltered you with your customers.

      9. Give Back to Customers

      When it comes right down to it, the holidays are about giving back. There is no better time to focus a little less on the bottom line and a little more on making the world a better place. For instance, you could make a donation to a charitable organization or sponsor a company-wide day of service.

      DYK? DreamHost is currently matching up to $10,000 for donations to Charity:Water.

      Looking for a viral way to spread joy to your customers? Host a giveaway or contest on social media.

      Last year DreamHost gave back to our customers with “The Dreamiest Website of the Year Awards.” Customers were able to submit their websites for a bevy of awards. The winners got swag, cash, and bragging rights. It was a fun way to thank the people who keep us in business.

      10. Welcome Visitors to the New Year

      After the hype has died down, take some time to ramp up your content production. Why? Because once the merriment is over, your customers will be thinking about the next big thing: the new year!

      Come January, DreamHost customers are looking for help building a brand new website to kickstart their resolutions, whether they’re starting a blog or a business. Think about what your customers will want to do next year and start creating content to help them do just that.

      The new year is a fresh start for everyone. Stay on top of your content strategy by preparing in December for a big rollout of fresh ideas in January.

      Give your website a home for the holidays. Sign up for DreamHost today!

      Stick a Bow on It, You’re Done

      There you go! We hope you’ll enjoy (and use!) these 10 gift-wrapped holiday ideas to connect with your customers during the holiday season.

      And we want you to get in on this too!

      Tell us: how have you decked out your website in years gone by? And what are you trying for the first time this December? Spread the good cheer with us on Facebook or Twitter.





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      How to Create an Email Newsletter (And Why You Should)


      It seems like everyone has a newsletter these days. In fact, you probably stumble across newsletter sign-up forms on most sites you visit. While the many invitations can seem overwhelming, there’s a reason so many sites want your email address.

      As it turns out, running a newsletter is a smart move for many reasons. It can help you increase brand awareness, improve user engagement, and even generate more sales. The best part is that creating and sending a newsletter doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming.

      In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of running a newsletter for your website, using our own The WordCandy Weekly as an example. We’ll also discuss what you can do with your newsletter, before showing you the basics of how to set one up for yourself. Let’s get to work!

      A Brief Introduction to Email Newsletters

      The sign-up form for The WordCandy Weekly.

      Chances are that you’re pretty familiar with newsletters. They’ve become as much a part of everyday internet life as blogs or cat memes. In fact, you probably receive at least a few of these messages in your inbox on a weekly or daily basis.

      When something becomes that mundane, you can easily to forget why it became so popular in the first place. You might even expect that newsletters aren’t as useful as they once were. However, the reality is that they’ve seen something of a resurgence in recent years.

      One of the main reasons for their continuing popularity is that newsletters offer a straightforward way to digest news and updates, without needing to seek out the information on social media. In addition, mobile web usage is becoming increasingly popular. Among other things, this means people are more likely to check their emails on the go, making newsletters more useful than ever.

      Of course, we should clarify that while the term ‘newsletter’ implies that these messages are used to communicate news, that’s not their only application. You can also use your newsletter to promote products and services, let people know about upcoming events, solicit feedback, and much more. You can even create automated emails that trigger at specific times or are sent when a user performs a particular action (more on this later).

      The point is that newsletters offer you a lot of freedom and can be applied to the specific needs of your business. Before we discuss how to start one up, let’s dig deeper into how they can benefit you.

      Why You Should Consider Starting Your Own Newsletter

      Naturally, getting a newsletter off the ground will require you to invest a certain degree of time and effort. As such, it will need to provide benefits to offset the costs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways a newsletter can benefit you and your business.

      For example, a newsletter can:

      • Help you increase traffic and engagement. If you use your newsletter to highlight your products or content, you can raise awareness and interest in what you’re offering. This also helps your audience stay on top of everything you do.
      • Let you control your message. You can inform users directly about news and other valuable information right away. As such, your existing audience will hear everything straight from you, and you’ll have control over how it’s presented.
      • Enable you to connect directly with your users. Newsletters are a perfect tool for creating a personal connection with your users since you can address them directly. You can also segment your audience to create email campaigns that are specifically tailored to a smaller part of your overall customer base.
      • Generate more conversions. Since a newsletter enables you to raise awareness and publicize your offerings, it often leads to more conversions and even increased revenue.

      As we mentioned earlier, how you decide to use your newsletter will depend primarily on your goals and business model. For example, an e-commerce business might leverage emails to highlight products, publicize deals, and even provide offers that are unique to subscribers.

      However, you can also use your newsletter more holistically. It doesn’t even have to be directly (or even indirectly) related to your actual business. Instead, you can provide general information that’s of interest to your audience, offering a service rather than engaging in direct marketing.

      One example of this in action is is our own newsletter: The WordCandy Weekly. This is a regular news roundup of the latest stories from the WordPress community.

      An issue from The WordCandy Weekly.

      At WordCandy, we provide content solutions for WordPress businesses so this resource is obviously relevant to our company. At the same time, it’s not directly tied to the work we produce.

      Instead, our intention with this newsletter is to provide value to our existing clients and readers. By doing that, we’ve been able to help our subscribers stay up-to-date with news that matters to them. At the same time, we can raise awareness of our business, without needing to spend time and money on marketing or compromising the value of the product.

      In other words, this is a type of promotion that benefits all parties. By using a newsletter in this way, you can better establish yourself as a knowledgeable part of your niche or community. You can also grow your brand awareness, all while providing a genuinely useful service to your mailing list.

      This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with using your newsletter for direct promotion, of course. Which route you decide to use will depend largely on your business, target market, and goals. An excellent starting point is to study newsletters created by businesses and websites that are similar to yours, and see if there’s a particular niche or need that’s currently unfulfilled.

      How to Create a Newsletter

      Once you’ve settled on a concept for your newsletter and know what you want it to focus on, it’s time to start putting it together. If you’re worried that this means manually sending hundreds or thousands of emails from your personal inbox, you’ll be pleased to hear that the actual process is much more painless.

      In fact, there are plenty of solutions that can help you create and manage your newsletter. If you have a WordPress site, you can even do this straight from your admin dashboard by using a plugin like Jackmail.

      The Jackmail plugin.

      You can use this plugin to incorporate your newsletter directly into your site. Jackmail even makes it possible to generate automatic emails at predetermined times, such as whenever you publish a new post. It also includes an email builder, enabling you to create gorgeous templates for your messages with ease.

      Another popular solution, and the one we use for our own newsletter, is Mailchimp.

      The Mailchimp home page.

      Mailchimp is a perfect newsletter solution for almost any application; it’s easy to use while providing a lot of opportunities to customize your email campaigns. It offers many key features, along with various ways that you can integrate your Mailchimp account with other platforms. Like Jackmail, it also includes an intuitive email builder, along with a series of pre-made templates you can use.

      This particular solution also has a robust free plan, which enables you to gather up to 2,000 subscribers and send up to 12,000 emails every month. This should be more than enough to begin with, and when your list start to grow, you can always upgrade to a premium plan.

      Which solution you decide to use will once again depend on your preferences, as well as what specific features you need. However, it’s vital to remember that whether your newsletter becomes a success will depend primarily on the quality of its content.

      3 Tips for Making Your Newsletter a Success

      After choosing an email marketing solution and putting in place a general plan for your newsletter, you’ll just need to ensure that you take advantage of its full potential. To give you a running start, here are some tips that will help you optimize your newsletter.

      1. Create a Simple, Attention-Grabbing Template

      One of the most important (and fun) aspects of creating your newsletter is putting together your template. As you might expect, this template will be the basis for your newsletter design. This way you can keep each message’s look the same while adding new content each time.

      For example, the template we use for our weekly newsletters looks like this.

      The WordCandy Weekly email template.

      This makes it easy for us to add new content, subject lines, and preheaders each week without needing to recreate the look and layout each time. Building this template was also quite effortless. Almost all newsletter solutions will offer you both layouts and themes you can use as a basis for your campaigns.

      For example, Mailchimp offers various design options for free.

      A sample of several Mailchimp themes.

      One thing you’ll notice about these themes is that, while they feature very different looks and are designed for various purposes, they almost all prioritize simplicity. This is a key consideration when it comes time to design your template. While making your emails look compelling is necessary, what matters more is that the design doesn’t overwhelm or bury the actual content.

      You can see this philosophy applied in our newsletter as well, as we opted for a straightforward, accessible approach. We decided to only use a single image, as our primary goal is to highlight the featured news items. However, images can serve a variety of useful purposes, especially if you’re using your campaigns to highlight products or if your newsletter will have a more commercial focus. In the end, your template’s design should serve your ultimate goals.

      It’s also a smart idea to design with accessibility in mind. This includes making sure that color combinations and fonts are easy to read. What’s more, many email marketing solutions will let you send a version of your newsletter that strips out all images and styling. This is called a plain-text campaign. Mailchimp, like many similar tools, automatically generates a plain-text campaign and sends it to subscribers who have opted not to receive the standard HTML version of your emails.

      Once you’ve designed your template, it’s always critical to test it before going live. A simple way of doing this is by sending out test emails and getting feedback from your coworkers, friends, and so on. If you have created multiple templates, you can also perform A/B testing to see which one is most effective.

      2. Use Automation to Your Advantage

      To make the most out of your newsletter, you should aim to do as little work as possible. This may sound counterintuitive, but the point is that it’s vital to make your campaigns efficient. After all, consider how much time it would take to manually write and send every single email if you had to construct it all from scratch each time.

      Fortunately, any quality email marketing service will provide you with automation options. There are several ways you can use these to your advantage, but let’s look at a few of the most helpful strategies.

      First and foremost, you can set up your campaign to send full emails automatically, at specific trigger points. Jackmail refers to this as creating an automation or an automated workflow. A common example of this is to send a welcome email to new users, which triggers when they sign up to your site.

      However, you can get even more creative with this option. For instance, you could send a birthday congratulation email on each subscriber’s birthday and even include a coupon code as a gift. This adds a personal element to your newsletters.

      To elaborate further on that point, you should also aim to make sure every email feels like it’s directed at the recipient. A good way to achieve this is by using variables, which will be dynamically replaced with relevant information. In Mailchimp, these are referred to as Merge Tags, and you can use them in a variety of ways.

      One option that we implemented in our newsletter is the customizable date tag. When editing a new email, the date simply appears like this:

      The date merge tag in the Mailchimp editor.

      However, the system will automatically add the current date when the newsletter is generated.

      The current date in a sent newsletter.

      An even better use for merge tags is to display information that’s specific to each recipient. For example, if you collected their names during the registration process, you can add the *|FNAME|* tag to display each person’s first name in their email. This helps make each message seem less impersonal, even if they’re automated. In turn, this can help increase the number of clicks on your newsletters.

      3. Keep a Close Eye on Your Newsletter Statistics

      As your newsletter grows, it becomes crucial that you don’t get complacent. In fact, this is where your job really begins, as you’ll need to make sure that your campaigns are (and remain) effective. To do that, you’ll have to study and analyze your email analytics.

      Which metrics you should focus on will depend somewhat on your newsletter’s purpose. However, here are some of the main numbers you should look out for in all your emails:

      • Click Through Rate (CTR): This shows you how many recipients clicked on at least one link on a specific email.
      • Open rate: This is a percentage value displaying how many recipients opened your email at least once.
      • Subscriber growth: This lets you know how many new users have subscribed to your newsletter.

      Once you have this information, which should be provided by your email marketing solution, you can start to improve metrics that are sub-par. For example, you may find that your links are not clearly defined, making them less likely to be clicked on. Or perhaps your subject lines aren’t engaging enough, leading people to ignore your emails. If your subscriber count has plateaued, on the other hand, you might consider marketing your newsletter more on your website and social media.

      Finally, an effective way to get better results from your campaigns is to tailor them to a specific portion of your audience. This is known as audience segmentation, which means focusing unique campaigns on the users who most likely to be interested in them. Using segmentation in your newsletters enables you to raise your CTR and conversions, as subscribers will receive emails that are a better match to their demographics and interests.

      Push Send

      You might think that most people’s inboxes are too stuffed to fit in another newsletter, but you’d be mistaken. There’s always room for one more subscription, especially if it’s well-written, engaging, and provides genuine value to the reader. The best part is that sending out email campaigns will benefit both you and your subscribers.



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