Staying Current with WordPress & Plugins Updates

WordPress has fast become the world’s most popular CMS and in doing so is taking security very seriously. WordPress’ days as just a blogging platform are long gone and it was now being used to power sites for organisations like government and media for which security is so critical. Whether you are a small business or large corporation, if your site is on WordPress it is critical to keep your WordPress core and plugins updated.

The top 5 reasons to keep WordPress updated are:

  • Security
  • Performance
  • Bug fixes
  • Compatibility
  • Features

One of the reasons that WordPress is increasingly becoming the target of security attacks is because it’s so big. A CMS that powers up to a quarter of the internet will doubtless attract the attention of anyone wanting to insert malicious code, take sites down or steal data.

Many times users are worried their site will break if they perform an update. Seravo.com has a nice solution for this. Based in Finland, Seravo has been performing tested auto-updates for the past three years for thousands of sites and created the WP Safe Updates plugin with the desire to remove the barrier of fear that often prevents users from updating their sites.

WP Safe Updates allows users to test plugin updates in a sandbox before applying them on a live site. After installing the plugin, you’ll see a new “test update” link with available updates on the plugins page.

This allows you to check out the frontend, admin, and any area of the site that the plugin affects. Once satisfied with the results of the update, you can exit the sandbox and proceed with confidence in updating the plugin on the live site.

This plugin is definitely worth taking a look at to help better management of updates.

Creating Focus Keywords for Better SEO

A focus keyword is the keyword for which you want your content to be ranked at Google. Gone are the days of stuffing random keywords that have no relation to the text on the page. That is a topic for a whole other blog post but take our advice,,, it will only hurt your page rank.

If your blog is in a competitive industry then chances are that you will be competing with many other established and reputable publications for popular keywords. In this situation, you can get more organic traffic by using long tail keywords. A long tail keyword is one of the best methods for generating search traffic. A long tail keyword represents a more natural way to search. It is much easier to rank for long tail keywords than for more common keywords. For example if you are fitness club in Westport CT, you will not want to spend your efforts ranking for “Fitness Clubs”. This is a highly competitive keyword and will require not only a tremendous effort but lots of money in adwords. You will receive better search results but using “Fitness Clubs in Westport CT” as your focus keyword.

The highest ranking focus keywords are going to be those that are used often in the post, starting with the title. Some SEO experts believe that Meta description tag on a page has become irrelevant while others would strongly disagree. As a rule of thumb I would always use meta description for all of your posts and pages. A good meta description will be shown in social media sites like Facebook and in Twitter via Twitter Cards. You also want to make sure that you at least mention your focus keyword in the meta description for search purposes. The character limit for Meta Description is 155 characters. Stay within that limit or your meta description will be removed after 155 characters. Try to use your focus keyword earlier in the meta description to avoid this.

eCommerce Case Studies

Shopping cart applications have become more and more popular for small business owners. Gone are the days when the idea of an eCommerce site was only reserved for “big” corporations. Smaller businesses can implement shopping cart components into their websites at a reasonable cost with a back-end that makes managing products a breeze. Online shopping continues to grow at a staggering rate. The 2013 holiday shopping season once again confirmed this trend. Black Friday 2013 was the first billion-dollar-plus online shopping day, with total online sales for the day reaching $1.2 billion, up 15% over 2012.

 

At 540 we have implemented a number of online shopping components for clients from simple registration forms with online payment processing to complete online mobile ready stores. The majority of this eCommerce functionality is built right into an existing website to reduce the cost of building a new eCommerce site. In this article we will take a look at 2 client sites that contain shopping cart features, one built with a simple Paypal plugin and another with a full eCommerce store featuring 100+ products and user account management.

 

Simple Online Shopping Components

 

JKFlashy is a premier makeup services company in Westchester County, NY. Although their primary business is makeup application they started developing their own line makeup products and needed a simple solution to start selling products online.  Since a full online store was not required we used the Paypal API to setup a products and add-to-cart buttons directly onto a  page within the website. The advantages of this Paypal approach includes:

 

  1. Lower Cost- Uses existing Paypal functionality reducing the cost to implement full eCommerce into the website.
  2. Transactions processed outside of the client website- although the shopping is done within the site, the transaction is completed through the Paypal server, eliminating the need to incorporate secure SSL functionality on the website.

 

JKFlashy Online Store Image

With this solution you are taking existing code from Paypal to implement into the website and Paypal will handle the secure credit card processing. It’s a cost effective approach but does have some limitations mainly in customization and the fact that the customer will leave your website to process the payment through Paypal.

 

Complete eCommerce Solution

North American Wireless Solutions (NAWSNY) is a national wholesale distributor of cell phones and related merchandise for the Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin brands. They contacted 540 to build a complete eCommerce solution with custom shopping cart functionality that allowed for orders to be processed directly through their warehouse.

 

The NAWSNY website was built on WordPress with a customized version of the WooCommerce plugin. WooCommerce straight out of the box  is an extremely powerful eCommerce solution for complete online store functionality with customer account management.

 

nawsnySome of the highlights on typical client eCommerce builds includes:

  • Easy to use dashboard with order summaries and various types of reporting on sales, customers and stock
  • Shipping & tax settings
  • Customer login and account management
  • Product & inventory management
  • Promotions including the ability to add coupons
  • Payment gateway integration

 

 

I have been using WooCommerce extensively and find with a good knowledge of CSS and WordPress coding it can be highly customized to meet the client’s requirements.

 

If you are considering an online store option for your website please send us an email to see how one of these solutions or other eCommerce options can be implemented into your website.

Pinterest for Business

pin2Basically Pinterest is the ultimate social network platform that combines pinning things that interest you in sort of a digital scrapbooking. So, pin+interest has led to Pinterest, the ultimate online mood board. Needless to say that with over 10 million unique visitors per day Pinterest has become the 2nd or 3rd largest social platform on Earth. The biggest benefits of using Pinterest for business may be increasing your sales or lead generation. But how can you use Pinterest for your business?First of all, you’ll need to build a nice and interesting profile with enough information about you and what you do and add your website URL. Then it’s time to create interesting boards with some nice  images and make sure you add informative description for each one using one compelling focused keyword. Optimize image titles before uploading them and add backlinks to their source after you’ve pinned them. Create a board with your latest products/best sellers/ fav products. Also, follow other relevant boards by commenting, linking and spraying them.Now that we’ve gone through the basics of using Pinterest, let’s see which are the greatest benefits of using it. Well, if you haven’t figured out by not, Pinterest is all about visual.
So, the best way to profit from it is to showcase your products or images of your services in the most interesting and appealing way possible. If you also add a bit of your expertise and passion in a particular area, interested people will automatically like and re-pin your content and with a bit of luck help it go viral. All of this makes Pinterest a pretty unconventional way to reach would-be customers that might not get to know you in any other way. By demonstrating expertise and credibility and adding value, you can use Pinterest in the most fortunate way to help your business get more popularity.
Pinterest is a very reliable tool that can help your business grow if used wisely and creatively. You can use it to create board with the amazing products you sell or if you are a service business, you can create inspiration boards that everyone will like to save and re-pin. In the end, it is free, it’s fun and simple, so why not start using it today?

The 540 List of Awesome WordPress Plugins

One of the greatest aspects of building a website on WordPress is the ability to integrate plugins to perform specific functions. Plugins extend the capabilities of your website and allow it to do things that would otherwise take hours and hours of serious coding.  There are a variety of different plugins for WordPress, literally thousands, so there is a good chance there is a plugins for just about every type of site enhancement you can think of.

Below is our list of Awesome Plugins for WordPress. Awesome is a subjective word, since some WordPress users may argue there is a better plugin in a particular category.. which very well may be true.  However, since developing custom themes and modifying existing client themes I have come to find these particular plugins never fail, are easy to implement for the most part and have good dev support.

Security

Wordfence Security
Wordfence is a free enterprise class security plugin that includes a firewall, anti-virus scanning, malicious URL scanning and live traffic including crawlers. Wordfence is the only WordPress security plugin that can verify and repair your core, theme and plugin files, even if you don’t have backups.

Better WP Security
The easiest, most effective way to secure WordPress.  Improve the security of any WordPress site in seconds. Includes several useful options, such as locking out users after multiple attempts and easy backups.

Akismet
This is one of the most widely used plugins to check your comments to see if they look like spam or not and lets you review the spam it catches under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen.
* You will need an Akismet API key. Keys are free for personal blogs, with paid subscriptions available for businesses and commercial sites.

 

Forms

Contact Form 7
A widely used form builder plugin that can manage multiple contact forms, plus you can customize the form and the mail contents flexibly with simple markup. The form supports Ajax-powered submitting, CAPTCHA, Akismet spam filtering and so on. We use Contact Form 7 in most of our WordPress site builds.

Fast Secure Contact Form
Easily create and add forms to WordPress. Fields are easy to add, remove, and re-order. The contact form will let the user send emails to a site’s admin, and also send a meeting request to talk over phone or video.

 

Statistics

Google Analytics Dashboard for WP
The king of site analytics! The Google Analytics Dashboard will display analytics data and statistics inside your WordPress Dashboard. Track your WordPress site easily and with lots of metadata: views per author & category, automatic tracking of outbound clicks and page views.

 

SEO

All in One SEO Pack
All in One SEO Pack is a WordPress SEO plugin to automatically optimize your WordPress blog for Search Engines such as Google.  You can set custom title and keyword attributed per page or post.

WordPress SEO by Yoast
This WordPress SEO plugin goes beyond basic SEO functions and automatically optimizing and inserting the meta tags and link elements that Google and other search engines like so much.

 

Photo Management

NextGEN Gallery
One of the most popular WordPress plugins of all time, It provides a powerful engine for uploading and managing galleries of images, with the ability to batch upload, import meta data, add/delete/rearrange/sort images, edit thumbnails and group galleries into albums. It also provides two front-end display styles (slideshows and thumbnail galleries), both of which come with a wide array of options for controlling size, style, timing, transitions, controls, lightbox effects, and more.

Gallery
This plugin makes it possible to implement as many galleries as you want into your website. You can add multiple pictures and description for each gallery, show them all at one page, view each one separately.

 

Sharing

Socilable
It’s a banner that reminds your readers to spread the word. You can select and customize several features, such as text, color, and length in order to ensure your readers and their friends a great social experience.

Social Count Plus
Keeps a really nice tally of all your Twitter followers, Facebook fans, YouTube subscribers, Google Plus page followers, Instagram followers and more.

Share Buttons by AddThis
Help drive traffic to your site by helping visitors share, bookmark and email your content to over 330 services.

 

Must Haves

W3 Total Cache
A very fast caching engine for WordPress that improves the user experience of your site by increasing server performance, reducing the download times and providing transparent content delivery network (CDN) integration.

Google XML Sitemaps
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and Ask.com to better index your blog. With a sitemap, it’s much easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently.

WP-DB-Backup
WP-DB-Backup allows you to easily to backup your core WordPress database tables. You may also backup other tables in the same database.

 

If you have a favorite plugin let us know and post in our comments.

Understanding Copyright Basics for Your Website

Copyright Basics

Understanding the basics of copyright is important when planning your website content, including both text and images. Before we dive into copyright and web design lets take a step back and understand what a copyright is. Copyright is a form of protection under the U.S. Constitution for original works of authorship, fixed within a tangible medium. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works. A copyright allows anyone to create a creative work and call it their own. In the United States a copyright lasts the entire life of the author plus 70 years. This rule applies to works you create for yourself. Work for hire copyright is slightly different. As a web designer I pass that copyright to the client, meaning after a website is created and payment is exchanged the client now owns the full rights to the design and content. A work for hire copyright last 120 years after it was created or 95 years after it is released to the public, whichever comes first.

How to Create a Copyright

copy1The act of creating a copyright is actually very simple. If I grab a blank piece of paper and drawn a smiley face stick figure I can say its copyrighted. It’s literally that simple, if you create something it belongs to you and you own the copyright as long as it is something tangible. You can’t copyright an idea unless it is integrated into something someone can see. If I have an idea for a great website I can’t declare it as copyrighted until I actually produce the website in a public forum. You do not have to register a copyright with the US Government when it is created, you will however have to register if you wish to bring a lawsuit against someone for copyright infringement. Registration outside of infringement is voluntary although many people choose to register to obtain a certificate and have their copyright recorded on the pubic record.

 

What You Can Copyright

Any kind of original content including articles, photos, advertisements, drawings, videos, code and custom layouts. Basically all elements of building the website can fall under your copyright.  Idea’s however can not be copyrighted. Also titles and slogans and your company name cannot be copyrighted. They can however be trademarked so you should consider looking into trademark law or speak with a lawyer on areas of your website which will not fall under copyright law but may afford additional protection.  For purposes of this article we will stick with the basic elements of a website which are copyrightable with one big exceptions, domain names cannot be copyrighted. Depending on the subject of your website content may fall into some gray areas of the law. For example, if you are food service provide or chef any recipes you post are not copyrightable. Your website design, images and other content certainly are but the recipes themselves are not. If you have questions on specific content on your website and whether or not you can classify it under a general website copyright I would check out copyright.gov which has pdf downloads available of various sections of the US Copyright Law.

Understanding Fair Use

If you see your work being used on the web without your permissions can you immediately send a cease-and-desist letter to the site owner? In some cases yes, but not always.  Fair Use is an exception to copyright law which lets individuals make use of your original work without your permissions. Schools for example can use copyrighted material for educational and teaching purposes. The press is another great example. Images and writings by individuals you see on news segments are all covered under fair use. Google would not exist is there was no fair use protection under copyright law.  As you build content for your website you should be aware that at some point your content, images, etc. could be used for educational purposes or news stories without your permission. So before you take action against a website or institution for “stealing” your work be sure you fully understand the purpose in which your copyrighted material was republished.