The State of SEO in 2014

‘Help me get to No.1 on Google’ is a common refrain from new and old website owners. The art of getting a website on the first page of Google’s and other search engine’s search results is, as many of you will know, known as Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. There are many techniques and tactics to achieve this, but over the last couple of years in particular Google has taken on those that use the dark arts or black hat techniques to get their site ranked highly.

In many ways, this has made it more difficult to get to No.1 as it is harder technically to play the system, but in other ways, it has made things simpler – it is the quality of the content of your site that matters most together with the quality of the incoming links to your site.

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15 Free WordPress Themes for 2014

Here’s the first round-up of new themes for 2014 including some big bold contemporary themes. It’s also good to see many of these themes offering WooCommerce compatibility. All themes are free and responsive.

1. Bearded

This looks to be one of the more impressive free themes of late with a real premium look and feel about it. I look forward to giving Bearded from bonfirelab a try.

Bearded WordPress Theme

‘A responsive CSS3 and HTML5 blogging and portfolio theme. It supports all post formats and has layout, and color options built into the theme customizer. The theme also supports the Custom Content Portfolio plugin, giving artists and other creative people the ability to share their work’.

2.Simple

This is a great full screen theme from Themesmarts who are aiming to ‘to create free or open source WordPress themes using the best and free open source resources tools on the net’. This theme, packed with features and options, looks like their best one yet.

Simple WordPress Theme

‘Simple wordpress themes goes by its name a simple wordpress theme with enough features and options to get your satisfaction a big boost. Simple WordPress theme supports multiple color schemes 5 to be exact and 2 primary color which is dark and white. Its homepage can be fully customized, using a set of shortcodes the homepage can be created uniquely.

Simple WordPress supports 3 types of page templates, Blog template which shows all the latest blog posts, portfolio template which shows the latest portfolio project and lastly is the homepage template which is used to create your homepage’.

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Creating a HTML Email Marketing Campaign

HTML Email Marketing

An email marketing campaign is an excellent way to reach more customers, or remind existing ones that you exist. Before you begin though, it really helps to be clear about the purpose of your email (e.g. to sell a product, promote a service, to provide information etc.), and this in turn should help determine who you would like to send it to. For this you will need to develop a targeted email distribution list.

Email Distribution Lists

If you’ve been busy collecting emails from your customers with their permission you have a good start. It’s certainly best if your email distribution list is permission based – that is a list of subscribers who have already giving their permission for you to contact them by email (e.g. by subscribing through your website or other sources). It’s worth putting in some effort to develop and maintain this list so do not miss opportunities to get people to subscribe to your emails.

If you do not have a good list of subscribers, you might be tempted to send out speculative emails. This can be quite contentious and for a good reason – to prevent spam. There are legal pointers to bear in mind (the US has quite stringent rules). However, in the UK and Europe at least, if you are marketing to other businesses (B2B marketing) then you should be OK. Email marketing company, Extravision, gives the following advice (see Legislation to consider when embarking on marketing via email for full article):

‘The good news for you if you are selling and marketing to other businesses is that you can continue to work on an ‘opt out’ basis. This means that you can contact those names you have on your database without needing to gain their permission first.

The legislation allows the member states to choose whether or not to include business emails in the ‘opt in’ rule. The UK government decided that common sense dictates that you shouldn’t need advance permission to contact a business. It also felt that corporations were well placed to protect their systems from unwanted emails.’

You should also make sure that you do not conceal your identity in your emails and provide a free of charge ability to opt out of future emails.

Note that email marketing to individuals, which for legal purposes, includes sole traders and partnerships, should be permission-based i.e. on an opt-in basis. Therefore if you want to market to personal email addresses the recipients must have opted in to receiving your emails.

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WordPress Security: 10 Steps to Stop Your Site Getting Hacked

In terms of security, an up to date WordPress site is fairly robust, but because WordPress is so popular, there are plenty out there looking to exploit any weakness in security. Before you know it, your site could be full of links to Viagra and dodgy pharmaceutical products, or worse. So what can you do to make your site more secure? Here’s a non-technical list of 10 things you can do.

1. Use a security plugin. There are two good free plugins available – Better WP Security and WordFence. Once activated, your site is immediately more secure, but the settings provide further enhancements which do not take very long to set up.

2. Don’t use admin as your user name – it gives half the game away! And ensure strong passwords – non-dictionary, with numbers and characters. This can help protect you against ‘brute force attacks’which aim to gain access to a site by trying passwords and usernames over and over again.

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15 of the Best Free WordPress Themes for Autumn 2013

It’s been a couple of months since my last round-up of free WordPress themes and a quick check around the sites reveals there’s been a surprising amount of good new themes released recently. Some of the following themes are still quite fresh so bear that in mind if you are thinking of using them – most of the developers will welcome any feedback and suggestions for improvements. The themes are all responsive and it’s noticeable that Bootstrap is being used as the basis for more and more themes.

1. Vantage

This looks to be a truly impressive free theme with a host of features usually seen in premium themes. The full screen front page slider looks great plus there’s a load of widgets and use of Page Builder to help create customised layouts. It’s a popular theme with 25,000 downloads in 5 weeks.

Vantage

‘Vantage is a flexible multipurpose theme. It’s strength lies in its tight integration with some powerful plugins like Page Builder for responsive page layouts, MetaSlider for big beautiful sliders and WooCommerce to help you sell online. Vantage is fully responsive and retina ready. Use it to start a business site, portfolio or online store’.

2. Openstrap

Another very impressive free theme, Openstrap utilises the Bootstrap Framework, and offers a whole host of features with plenty of widgets and page layouts.

Openstrap

‘The Openstrap theme for WordPress developed on top of Twitter Bootstrap Framework. The theme is fully responsive and can be viewed on any device. Openstrap theme provides 6 different layouts for posts and pages, 11 widget areas, 3 strategic menu locations, nicely designed and customizable footer with its own widgets’.

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Disastrous Update for NextGEN Gallery WordPress Plugin

By all accounts, the latest substantial update for the well-established photo gallery plugin, NextGEN (over 7 millions downloads!) has been a disaster. The update promised much, but has delivered little, with broken and buggy sites now scattered over the web. For the moment, this plugin is best avoided. If you are currently using it, don’t update to version 2.x, and stick with the older versions.

NextGEN has been one of the best plugins for many years but was recently taken over by Photocrati, who have clearly struggled to make the worthy looking improvements they were seeking. Let’s hope they can sort it out as although there are many gallery plugins out there, NextGEN was the most comprehensive, especially for free, which also makes you wonder about Photcrati’s decision to bring out a Pro version at the same time as the update.

See the WordPress reviews for the plugin to get a taster of some of the problems the update has created, whilst as of today, it is worth noting that only 180 of 1,630 support threads have been resolved in the past two months.

If you need to go back to an earlier version, Next GEN do provide guidance on how to rollback a version. If you have updated successfully or have been using the Pro version and like it, please let me know, so we know that’s it’s not all doom and gloom!

UPDATE EARLY 2014: NextCellent Gallery

NextCellent Gallery – NextGen Legacy - the 2013 NextGen upgrade has led to this fork from the original, which has 40,000 downloads in a few months, and is getting good reviews.

If you have Nextgen and want to change then this article – So Long NextGen –  may help.

More of the Best Free and Responsive WordPress Themes 2013

This is another round up of free and responsive WordPress themes.Some free themes also have pro versions so when this is the case take care to check the free version has the features you require if you do not want to pay for pro. For example, the Panoramica theme, mentioned in my previous article, 16 Free Responsive WordPress Themes for 2013, which is an impressive free theme, now has a pro version, and the free version is not quite as good as it was.

In general, I have tended to shy away from listing basic or lite versions as the features are often quite underwhelming,and sometimes the free version is not responsive. This is no doubt part of a strategy to encourage you to go pro or try a theme but I have only listed basic/lite versions where the free version is still a good choice in itself.

1.Customizr

Customizr is currently the second most downloaded theme in the WordPress Themes directory, and with a good slider, plenty of widget areas, easy customisations, and a clean look, it is not hard to see why. From CPO Themes.

Cutomizr Theme

‘A  free responsive WordPress theme, easy to customize , built with HTML5 & CSS3 upon the Twitter Bootstrap framework. The clean design can be used for any type of website : corporate, portfolio, business, blog, etc. Choose a skin, upload your logo, set up your social network profiles and you are done!

It also includes a handy responsive slider generator (with call to action text and button) that can be embedded in any pages or posts. The theme supports five widgetized areas (two in the sidebars, three in the footer), up to three columns, nine post formats with special styles. It also comes with seven elegant skins and three handy featured page blocks for the front page’.

2. Discover

Another popular theme is Discover, from AntThemes, there are free and pro versions but the free version offers a lot, including a good slider with a side area for a call to action. Unlike some themes with pro versions, the free version is responsive .

Discover Theme

‘A very neat and clean orange and white business theme. The theme supports widgets. And features theme-options, threaded-comments and multi-level dropdown menu. A simple and neat typography’.

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