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.

Continue Reading to View Steps 2-10

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 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.


‘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.


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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16 Free Responsive WordPress Themes for 2013

More and more WordPress themes are going responsive with fluid page layouts that work across a range of devices. Here are some of the best free ones currently available:

1. Panoramica

This is one of my favourite free options at present with some nice basic customisations and the option to go full screen. From CPO Themes.

Panoramica theme

‘Panoramica is built with the intent of adapting to as many window sizes as possible. It has a fully fluid layout that gives it tremendous flexibility, allowing you to cater to both large and small screens alike. Its polished portfolio heavily emphasizes the use of images, displaying a clean slideshow in every portfolio item. And of course, you can customize its appearance through its extensive options panel’.

2. Pytheas

Pytheas is another good free option with enough basic customisations available to help create a decent site. From WP Explorer, who have a number of good free themes available on their site.

Pytheas Theme

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Booking Systems for Small UK Hotel Websites

One important factor highlighted in my last article, Web Design for Small Hotels, is the basic functionality or ease of use for customers checking availability and booking a room. This article takes a deeper look at the options out there for small hotel owners, and is drawn from investigating the systems in use amongst Brighton hotels. I did a little  investigation and had a look at what systems and software they were using (where it was possible to tell), but firstly, let’s consider a few key factors to a successful system:

Ease of Making bookings

This is the most fundamental consideration. For the customer, it’s essential that there is a smooth booking process without irritations. Most systems use a grid based system to enable customers to view availability and make bookings. Most also provide a basic booking widget to put on your own website to enable customers to check dates and availability.

Ease of Managing Bookings and Channel Management

Firstly, you will want to know that it is easy to manage bookings made through your own website, but the best systems and software offer easy integration with other booking websites (channels) such as, Laterooms, Expedia etc, so you do not need to keep updating endless websites. You will have to decide how important it is for you to be on how many of these sites. A good system will automatically update the information across a number of sites saving a lot of work and potential confusion over bookings. This usually costs extra. Not every channel is covered by every system so check to see which
ones are included. For example, many are not integrated with the booking systems of local tourist information sites.

Price and Commission Costs

Prices are charged on a variety of basis. Some charge an upfront fee, some a monthly fee and some charge a commission per booking and some do not. It’s important to look closely and work out what is best for you.

As previously mentioned, a great benefit of using these  booking systems  is the capability to update your booking pages and information across a number of booking websites, but pricing varies for this service. A major consideration therefore will be how many of these other booking websites are linked in to the system you choose and what you pay for this.

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Web Design for Small Hotels

Living in a popular seaside town/city by the sea, I was curious to have a look at the websites of some of the small to medium hotels, B&B’s and guest houses of Brighton and Hove to see what they were like. It’s a mixed bunch, some that were never good, some that are dating badly, many that are moderate and a few that are quite contemporary and stylish (typically belonging to boutique hotels).

An attractive well-designed website with compelling content is essential for hotels these days. More and more customers expect to be able to book their hotel accommodation online and it’s a must that your website meets the expectations of your customers. The majority of guests will judge your hotel on their first impressions of your website, discovered through search engines. This is great if your hotel has a good website but not so great if your website is outdated or poorly designed.

This article focuses on hotels in Brighton, on the south coast of England, a popular, historic and bustling seaside town with plenty of attractions, good nightlife, and a wide range of restaurants. The South Downs National Park, an area of whale-backed hills, is on its doorstep. People come to the town for weekend breaks or a few nights away, conferences, stag and hen do’s, business, and it’s a big winner with the pink pound. There are a lot of hotels in the town, ranging from the basic to the boutique. Whilst many of the latter have put considerable effort to develop attractive elegant websites, many hotels
have outdated or poorly designed sites and seem to overlook the importance of their website. Of course, not every hotel will want a boutique look – the website must attract your target customers – but it’s important that every hotel has a good look and feel that will entice bookings.

The Marina House Hotel and George IV Guesthouse (update: website appears to be no more) offer two of the better designed websites, but in general, the quality of sites is low.

Marina House and George IV hotel websites

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WordPress Plugin for a Radio Station.

I’ve been working on a few sites of late that have needed some more specific or niche plugins. One such site was for a Christian radio station that wanted a plugin for its schedule and to show who’s on air. After looking around the net, and finding quite a few others that were struggling to find good plugins for this, I found a good plugin called Weekly Schedule and complemented that with another called DJ On-Air Widget which provides a widget to display the current DJ and show on air. The drawback was that I had to enter the schedule in twice, once for each plugin.

But then I found a plugin that does both, called not surprisingly, Radio Station. It’s pretty neat though it need need a bit of customising to get the right look and feel. Radio Station provides a grid layout for the weekly schedule and displays the current on air show as well as upcoming shows. Each show also has its own page linked to the schedule and you can also create playlists.

Radio Station does the job and is relatively new to WordPress, having being developed first for Drupal. To see the plugin in action go to Cloud 9 Radio, which launched earlier this week.