The Pros and Cons of Commercial WordPress Themes

Posted by Masen

One of the great things about WordPress is the thousands of high quality themes available for the platform. What is a theme? A WordPress theme defines the look-and-feel of your site, or its design. The theme contains a specific set of style sheets and templates that determine the fonts, colors, styles and layouts of the pages within a WordPress website. Themes in WordPress can be installed and activated, rapidly transforming the way your whole site looks, much like a paint job and window tinting can transform the look of your car. The car interior and engine remain the same, but it looks very different on the outside.

With WordPress, you have a couple of options when it comes to choosing a theme for your site - you can have a professional web designer create a custom theme for you or you can purchase a pre-designed, commercial, theme. Both of these approaches have pros and cons.

Commercial themes have a number of things going for them:

  1. There are many attractive choices. Not only are there very well-designed options but, increasingly, there are options for specific types of businesses. Are you looking for a spa theme? There are tons of those. Do you need a well-designed real-estate theme? No problem.
  2. They are a great value. Most commercial WordPress themes sell for anywhere from $29 to $99. Compared to the cost of having a professional graphic designer create a custom designed website, this is a fantastic value for your money.
  3. They enable you to get up and running quickly. Rather than going through a custom design process, which can be time consuming, commercial themes enable you to get your site up and running quickly. Just install the theme and start adding content.
  4. They are highly customizable. Many commercial themes today give you control over every aspect of the theme, including the header, footer, background, font styles, colors, etc.

On the other hand, commercial themes have some downsides:

  1. The more attractive the theme you’ve chosen, the more likely 10,000 or more other website owners have purchased the same theme. Therefore, your website ends up looking exactly like a lot of other websites.
  2. While there are more and more industry-specific themes, they still aren’t as specific to your business as a custom design would be. And while you can customize a theme, if you try to customize it too much, it may end up taking longer and costing more than if you had just had a designer start from scratch.
  3. Because they are so highly customizable, many commercial themes have become bloated with all of the features they have added, causing sites based on these themes to load more slowly.
  4. Since the underlying code in a commercial theme can be viewed by anyone that is willing to pay the $29 - $99 entry fee, hackers can gain access to the entire code base, review it for bugs and if they find any, search Google for all sites based on this theme and hack them. For this reason, hacking a commercial theme is one of the primary entry points that hackers use to compromise WordPress websites.
  5. Good theme developers recognize that due to both the security issues explained above, as well as the need to be competitive in the market place, producing regular upgrades to their theme is a good thing. The problem with this, however, is that it creates a greater burden on site owners to stay up to date, constantly downloading and applying the latest theme update provided by the developer. And theme updates are the primary cause of site glitches, increasing the potential that after a theme is updated, some or all of your site will look different or be broken in some way.

The alternative to a commercial theme is a custom produced theme. A graphic designer creates a unique design and then a web developer turns that design into a custom WordPress theme.

The cons of custom designed themes are:

  1. They are more costly. You need to pay a professional designer and web developer for their time which is typically orders of magnitude more expensive than buying a commercial theme.
  2. They take longer to produce so you can’t get your site running as quickly as you could with a commercial theme.
  3. They are typically less customizable. While a web developer could build all of the bells and whistles into your theme that a commercial theme has, this is typically not done as it’s impractical in terms of how long it would take. This means that certain types of changes to your site down the road might require help from your web developer.

Custom themes have their own set of advantages:

  1. They are unique and can be more specifically designed and branded for your company. All large companies custom design their websites to enable their creative teams to build a site that is distinct, has personality and is consistent with the overall company brand.
  2. Because the underlying code of a custom theme is developed just for you, hackers don’t have access to it. As a result, custom themes are far less likely to be hacked.
  3. If a developer isn’t trying to build everything and the kitchen sink into a theme in order to make it appeal to the widest audience possible, they can focus on adding only the code needed for your site. This makes for much more light-weight, fast-loading themes.
  4. Since a custom theme is less vulnerable to security issues, there is little need for your developer to put out constant theme updates. As a result, the cost of maintaining a custom theme over time is typically far less than with a commercial theme. No theme updates equates to much less breakage in your site over time and therefore less maintenance.

The decision of whether to go with an off-the-shelf, commercial theme versus a custom designed theme often comes down to a question of budget. A custom designed theme is the direction that most businesses want to go if they can afford it. The simple fact that they are uniquely designed for your business, like a custom brochure versus one you might produce at Kinkos, means that they will better represent your company’s brand online. The additional facts that, if produced by an experienced developer, they will be more secure, faster, and require less maintenance over time make custom themes a no brainer for companies that have the budget.

On the other hand, if you need to get your site up and running quickly and/or you have a more limited budget, a commercial theme offers excellent value for the money.

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WordPress or Drupal: Which should you choose?

Posted by Masen

Both WordPress and Drupal are powerful, mature content management systems with worldwide support and large websites counted among their users. So, which should you build your next website in?

We’ve built very large websites, as well as many smaller ones, in both WordPress and Drupal. There are things that we like about both of them, but since WordPress has rapidly jumped into the lead in terms of total users, following are the top 3 reasons for and against using WordPress for your website.

Reasons For:

  1. Easy upgrade path. WordPress has upgrades wired. Drupal and other content management systems (Joomla, anyone?) require almost a complete rebuild of the site every time they do a major release. Minor releases may not be that difficult to implement but, to date, it has been untenable to stay up to date with the other platforms and therefore websites built on them inevitably get out of date and vulnerable to security breaches, performance issues and other problems over time. For better or worse, WordPress has maintained tremendous consistency in its database structure, template system and other aspects that have made updating the software over time possible, if not always easy.
  2. Massive third-party development. Because the WordPress universe is so much larger than that of either Drupal or Joomla (WordPress holds 30% of the worldwide market, compared to 7% for Drupal and 1% for Joomla), there are many more plugins, themes and services available that work with WordPress. This adds tremendous value to your ability to improve site functionality over time.
  3. Stronger Developer & User Support. Because WordPress dwarfs the other two in terms of its user base, there are always developers who can help and users are much more likely to have been exposed to it, reducing development, training and maintenance costs. WordPress is also generally considered to be he easiest to use.

Reasons against:

  1. The constant updates to WordPress and plugins creates an upgrade burden on site owners. If you don’t update, you fall behind and can fall prey to bugs and insecurities. If you do update, you occasionally will run into conflicts created by the latest version of WordPress or a plugin that causes issues with your site. Essentially, you have to factor in more maintenance costs. Arguably, however, the other platforms have this same cost it’s just that it’s so much higher that most people never do the upgrades and therefore inevitably their sites have problems or get hacked
  2. There are way MORE plugins for WordPress but many of them are not that mature. There are a few vertical markets that have deeply committed to Drupal and make modules for that platform for which analogs do not exist in the WordPress world. For those few industries, it’s a no brainer to go with Drupal. This probably doesn’t apply to you and, if it does, you’ll know because you’ll be talking to a vendor who requires you to use Drupal in order to buy their product.
  3. Due to it’s much greater popularity, WordPress is a bigger target for hackers, just like Windows is a bigger target than the Mac for viruses. On the other hand, the greater amount of security activity has arguably led to a more secure platform over time. Either way, the greater risk can be overcome with keeping WordPress up to date and utilizing good security plugins and practices, just like you maintain a good Virus checker if you live in the Windows world.

So, which platform should you go with? For most developers and site owners, WordPress is a clear choice for its straightforward upgrade path, large third-party marketplace and stronger developer, as well as user, support. In rare instances, if you are looking to build a large proprietary web platform or you are interested in vertical market software that requires it, Drupal might be the right choice.

Posted in Website Marketing - 2 Comments »

A Scientific Approach to a Better Online Lead Generation

Posted by Masen

a-b split testingHistorically, if you wanted more leads from your website, you would hire a consultant or an agency to help make your website “better.” You would design a more attractive website, write marketing copy that was more compelling or work on your SEO to try to increase the number of visitors to your site. All of these are valid approaches to improving website performance, however, there are problems with this approach. What is a “better” design and who is it more attractive to? Have you come across websites that you loved but your spouse or parter hated? How about marketing copy that turned you off but got a friend or associate so excited, they couldn’t stop talking about the product or service?The problem with “better,” is that it’s relative.Measurable results are the alternative because by quantifying your results, you can see with clarity whether a particular approach is moving you closer to your business goals. So, what’s important to measure in the context of online marketing or lead generation? That depends on your business goals, however, if one of them is to obtain more customers, here are some typical factors.Unique Visitors is the number of unique individuals that came to your website in a given period like a week or month. Calls to Action are requests for the visitor to do something, like call your or fill out a contact form or request-for-quote form. Conversion rate is the percentage of unique visitors who take a particular action. For example, the conversion rate for your contact form would be the number of people who filled out the form divided by the total number of unique visitors. If you had 100 unique visitors and received 10 contact form submissions, your conversion rate would be 10%. Your Acquisition Cost is the total cost that you spend to acquire a customer, in this case through your website. Say you run a Google adwords campaign and spend about $1 per click for those 100 unique visitors. Next, assume that it takes 10 leads (contact form submissions) for you to get a single customer. That means your acquisition cost for a customer is $100.Conversion rate is a measure of how effective your website is at turning visitors into prospects. If you increase your conversion rate, your site is performing measurably better than it was before. With a handle on your conversion rates, you can begin to make changes to your site and see if those changes improve your conversion rate or not. This is basic testing and, to speed up the process, you can use A/B testing where you test a single change to your website against the status quo. For example, you could A/B test a new primary image for your site’s slide show. A/B testing is straightforward - your website developer implements software that dynamically switches your site’s main slideshow image between the two options you are testing. One-half of the time, a visitor will see image A and one-half of the time a visitor will see image B. At the end of some period, you compare your conversion rates for visitors who saw image A with those who were given image B. In this way, you can clearly determine whether the new image made a difference in the effectiveness of your website’s lead generation.How do you decide what to test and how much to test? This is where experience, knowledge and a good grasp of your customer base comes in. You have to start somewhere, so you start by making changes that you think will make your site “better.” The difference is that you don’t assume these changes are better, you test them to prove it. In some cases your educated guesses will turn out to be beneficial. In a surprising amount of instances, they won’t. Once you get the hang of A/B testing, you quickly realize that you can literally test EVERY SINGLE change you might want to make. It can become easy to start doubting yourself and want to run tests on everything. This is impractical. Instead, start by testing a few large and noticeable changes, like your headline or hero image. Later, once you believe you have found the best version of those that you can create, begin to test smaller changes.Optimizing your conversion rate is an important first step before beginning a search engine optimization or pay-per-click campaign designed to drive more traffic to your site. If you spend a lot of money driving traffic to a poorly optimized site, your acquisition cost for a customer increases, sometimes dramatically. So, to get the most bang for your marketing buck, start with A/B testing and optimize your conversion rates. Then move on to strategies that will drive more traffic to your site.

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Custom Designed WordPress Theme versus an Off-the-shelf Theme

Posted by Masen

The graphic design, or look and feel, is the first impression every visitor gets from a website. It’s a critical component in establishing credibility and inspiring people to stick around. Poorly or generically designed websites have higher bounce rates than professionally designed ones. (more…)

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SEO and Mobile is Anyone Listening

Posted by Nick Andrew Rojas

Ask anyone in the industry, and they’ll tell you that mobile is the future. You hear it everywhere. In fact, mobile has been the future so long, it seems like it should be the present by now! This is actually supported by data, which indicated that mobile user volume surpassed that of desktop in 2014. Let that sink in for a moment: this isn’t just the abstract future, but the actual present.

It’s true everywhere you look, too. We already know how attached people are to their smartphones. Why doesn’t Google recognize this across its business?


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The Best WordPress Gallery Plugin

Posted by Chloe Spencer

Looking for the perfect WordPress gallery plugin for your website? Want an attractive and user-friendly way of displaying your portfolio or the photos from your last office party? There is a wide array of WordPress gallery plugins on the Internet, and it's hard to know which one you'll like best without installing and trying each plugin, which can take up a lot of time, and money, if you start to delve into premium plugins. So I have done the work and found the number one WordPress gallery plugin on the Internet, with the most downloads, best ratings, reviews and overall performance. (more…)

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About WordPress

Posted by Chloe Spencer

Believe it or not, your WordPress website has secrets, shortcuts and tricks you never even knew about. WordPress has a plethora of special features, and the hard part is not using them, but knowing they all exist. There are so many great little tips and tricks for WordPress that many of them go unnoticed by WordPress newbies and veterans alike. Read on to discover 5 things you may have never known about your WordPress website until now.


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Top 10 WordPress Widget Plugins

Posted by Chloe Spencer

WordPress widgets are one of the many perks of using WordPress as your CMS. Widgets add features to your sidebar, which you can add and subtract, rearrange and customize yourself without having to tinker around in the code. There's a handful of default widgets that come with WordPress, such as tag clouds, search bar, etc–but the best are found in WordPress widget plugins. WordPress plugins make extensive customization easy, with one-click install and simple modification options. I've put together a list of the top 10 WordPress widget plugins to consider installing on your WordPress website to deck out your website sidebar to its fullest potential. (more…)

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5 Web Marketing Secrets for Small Businesses

Posted by Chloe Spencer

Owning a small business is a big task. Initial planning, hiring employees, creating budgets, and marketing is only the beginning of the immense workload on the shoulders of new small business owners. But even if you're not a startup and you've had your business for a while, marketing is an on-going hurdle you must jump over on a regular basis. Here are a few tricks of the trade that can help any business with their online marketing… (more…)

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Joomla vs WordPress

Posted by Chloe Spencer

The ongoing Joomla vs WordPress war still rages, competing for the title of number one CMS. Both are very popular, very powerful Content Management Systems, but with slightly different approaches to managing content and geared towards a slightly different audience. So what it comes down to is not so much which one is better, but which CMS is better for you. Read on to find out whether you should build your website using WordPress or Joomla. (more…)

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