Honest Reviews ... No Spin

Why I Changed from Free to Premium WordPress Themes

When I started blogging and using WordPress, like many others I was trying to do everything as inexpensively as possible. I used only free plugins and themes.  I tested and used a lot of different themes over the last few years, such as your basic Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven, Weaver, and many others. I ended up moving to Premium WordPress Themes because I needed the following: 

wordpress themes - free vs premiumI Needed a Site That Looks Like a Real Website

A lot of the free themes are really made for blogs, and when I started building more sites that I wanted to look like more standard web sites rather than WordPress blogs. I needed the sites to look professional and to have functionality my clients needed. Most of the freebie plugins and themes just couldn’t accommodate my clients with the professional appearance and functionality they needed.

Needed Sites to be Problem-Free

Some free themes were discovered to have spammy backlinks hidden in them which were being used to boost the search rankings of whatever site the free theme maker wanted to promote. And by this, I don’t mean just a legitimate theme name/author in the footer, but like excessive links in ways that violate Google’s terms and put the site using the theme at risk.

Seeing as I was now creating sites for paying clients, I couldn’t risk having some crazy backlink mess up our ratings. That’s when I realized I needed to move to reliable themes. I found the premium WordPress themes were just what I needed.

Needed My Sites to Be Flexible and Robust

I found it was hard to get great free themes that were flexible and robust. I know, that’s asking a lot from a free theme, and that’s when I realized if I’m wanting that much out of a theme, it only stands to reason that the theme designer has a right to be compensated for that work.

I Needed Website Security

Other themes were found to have major security vulnerabilities.  Many hacked WordPress sites have been compromised due to insecure themes.

I Needed Themes That Are Responsive to Mobile & Tablets

As is reported on often these days, more and more people are browsing web sites via their mobile phones (primarily iPhone and Android based) as well as Tablets (iPad, Android tablets, Kindle Fire, etc.).  A surprisingly large number of web sites still make no adjustment for these users and so their websites range from looking bad to downright unreadable on these devices.

I’ve used mobile specific themes, domains and redirection type scripts in the past, but found that the very best way to deal with this issue is to use a premium theme which is built to be responsive. In other words, the theme will adjust it’s look and feel automatically to best suit the type of device the visitor to your website is using.

My Go-To Themes: Premium WordPress Themes

I no longer use free WordPress themes. I know they are great for people who are just starting out or who just need a blog, but my needs have advanced beyond that. I need to know that:

  • No one is going to be able to hack into my site due to poor theme security
    • There’s more to WP security than this, but  that’s a topic for another post
  • The site will look professional
  • I’ll be able to build a site with reliable contact forms, email sign ups, e-commerce shopping carts, cool looking headers, flexibility
  • I’ll get customer support when I need it
  • I won’t get dinged by Google because of spammy backlinks, slow page load performance or poor mobile support

While many of the WordPress Premium Themes are pretty impressive, I’m an especially big fan of the Genesis based themes (aka Studiopress themes which are built on the Genesis framework). I’ve now built several sites for my own affiliate marketing efforts and for clients on Genesis/Studiopress themes, and I’ve found them to be very flexible and functional. I love how they look, how fast they load, and how responsive they are. You can check out the Genesis/Studiopress themes here.

Deciding What Will Work For You

You may still want to try out some free themes and plugins. If you do, I encourage you to:

  • Watch carefully for problems with security
  • If you are struggling with your Google rankings, look into spammy backlink or slow page load problems
  • Beware of clunky plugins that mess up your theme appearance
  • Be aware that you may not be able to get customer support when you need it

If you want to share what has worked for you or ask questions, please post a comment. I look forward to hearing what you’ve learned and answering questions the best I can!

Protect Your SEO Rankings and Avoid the Google Slap

If you’re a blogger, you know the truth: The Almighty Google giveth, and the Almighty Google taketh away. Your Google rankings are always at jeopardy thanks to the ever-changing Google algorithms. This means you might rank on the first page today but get Google-slapped to page four tomorrow if you’ve broken any of the ever-changing Google rules.

girl-slap-google-slap

The following are current strategies (July 2013) for avoiding the ever-feared Google-slap. I’ll post updates to this whenever there’s a change in Google algorithms and will update the date so you will know how up-to-date this advice is. As you probably already know: old news is not helpful in this rapidly shifting Internet landscape. I’ll do my best to keep you current on the best advice for protecting SEO rankings.

Tip #1 – Post Truly Useful Content

A lot of bloggers make the mistake of posting crap on their site. If you aren’t offering good material, Google will catch on to you and slap you to the ground faster than you can say “Please don’t give me the Google slap!”

Good content is either:

  • Informative
  • Entertaining
  • Inspiring
  • Useful

If you post content that actually delivers value, you’ll rank well with Google and will develop a real following.

After all, there’s more to ranking than just fooling Google. Your bounce rate will drop if you provide actually useful or entertaining content, since you want to do more than rank well. You want readers to actually act on your content.

Tip #2 – Don’t Overstuff Your Blog Posts With Keywords

Yes, you want to make sure your posts have keywords in them, but you do not want to stuff them with so many keywords that the post reads unnaturally. Aim for a natural sound. Use behind-the-scenes techniques to stuff keywords into tags and images instead of stuffing your posts.

It’s better to write multiple blog posts on individual topics (and use a naturally-occurring number of keywords in each post) than to stuff a zillion keywords into a few posts. The Google people are smarter than any of us want to believe they are. They reward bloggers who do the work and produce lots of content; they Google-slap the fools that load keywords into a few posts and think they should get on the first page.

Tip #3 – Post at Least 350 Words

Alright, alright – I know some of you are posting funny pics or images or comics and you can’t write 350 words in addition to the stuff you usually post. That’s cool, and I get it. However, you will need to add in lengthy posts from time to time to prove to Google that you are a real deal kind of site. You need to get the respect of the Google Overlords who decide where your page should show up in searches.

This is especially important if you are trying to sell a product or service or are running an informational site. Comedic or artistic sites don’t need so many words per posts, but sites that are out to convince viewers to buy something need some serious content creation.

Tip #4 – Use Multimedia

Google loves to see that you are more than a writer. Post images, videos and audio to show Google you are not a one-trick-pony. Google likes the idea that you are making your site friendly to viewers who prefer audio or video instead of just posting one type of media.

If you’re not sure how to find professional images online (and get permission to use them), check out my posting on using images to increase your Google rankings here and then check out istockphoto here. I use istockphoto for my images because they are professional and they offer a wide variety of types of images and photos.

Tip #5 – Keep Your Content Fresh

Google won’t give you the respect you deserve if you don’t keep adding new content to your site. Review your static pages once in a while and tweak them, refreshing the content. Add a blog post every week, showing Google the site is active.

Make sure you change up which keyword phrases you optimize for, showing Google you are wide in breadth and scope.

Protect Your Google Rank

Follow these simple steps to protect your site from a drop in rankings. I’ll keep you posted as I follow Google’s changes.

How to Set Up Your Own Blogging Web Site

(Updated July 2013)

I’m in the process and writing several “how to” articles on practical steps to set up your own blog on a domain name you select and register. In other words, I’m not talking about setting up a blog on blogger.com, HubPages.com, etc. Along the way, I’ll share some great (and some not so great ;)) providers that you need to accomplish this.

For example, WordPress is the free software that powers approximately 20% of the world’s websites.  If you’re looking for top-notch WordPress hosting, you should definitely check out WPEngine.com !

WordPress themes or templates are what allow you to change the look and feel of your WordPress blog or web site. Although you can get free themes, some of those themes have been found to have security risks or even hidden unethical links back to web sites (unknown to the users) which have caused lost search engine rankings for some.

I’ve tried out more themes than I’d care to admit, and have learned the hard way after having a couple sites hacked due to insecure free themes.  So, if you want beautiful, functional, fast, secure and flexible themes, I highly recommend StudioPress Themes for WordPress

Why Build Your Own Blog Site Rather Than Use a Free Blog Service?
Certainly you can set up a free blog on a site that offers that service, and it sounds great doesn’t it? It’s simple, but ultimately you don’t OWN the URL, and it could change or be discontinued at any time. Talk to anyone who has been through having their free blogging service shut down or changed, and you’ll understand why you may want to establish a blog you truly own.