WordPress Plugin Roundup – Christmas Edition

We’re officially in the Christmas spirit here at iThemes, so here’s the Christmas edition of this month’s WordPress Plugin Roundup. This list includes a 5 fun (and free!) WordPress plugins that would probably make Clark Griswold proud.

iThemes Training members can check out the December WordPress Plugin Roundup webinar replay hosted by Nathan Ingram here.

Christmas Music

The Christmas Music plugin plays light and soft Jingle Bells music on your site.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • A nice little soundtrack that is actually not terribly obnoxious.
  • Has a customizable play/pause button

Griswold Level One: Xmas Lights

The Xmas Lights plugin adds nice looking animated Christmas lights to the top of your site.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Very lightweight way to Grizwold your website.

Griswold Level Two: Big Snow Flakes

The Big Snow Flakes plugin adds animated snowflakes to your site.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • Install and activate for snowfall effect with interesting depth effects.

Griswold Level Three: MMX – Make Me Christmas

The MMX – Make Me Christmas plugin adds the magic of Christmas on your WordPress website.

Nathan’s Notes:

  • When just a few flakes aren’t enough, this is the plugin for you.
  • Clark would be proud*

After-Christmas Special: Easy BMI Calculator

A free and easy to use BMI Calculator plugin provides a shortcode and a widget.



Nathan’s Notes:

  • The perfect post-holidays reality check :)
Be sure to check out the entire series of monthly WordPress Plugin Roundup posts here.

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Hassle Free Blogging Through WordPress

The World Wide Web has forever been an amazing resource for data, but in the last several years, some people have also been utilizing it as a way to show their feelings. A new trend has swept across the World Wide Web known as “blogging,” where anyone can utilize the web as a journal to convey their thoughts and share them with the world. Bloggers can show their ideas to the globe as opposed to a personal diary, leaving others to learn what they have to say. With this immersion of the blogging community has followed a rising variety of technology that makes developing blogs quick and understandable. One of these technologies is named WordPress, and it lets people work with templates to post their blogs. It’s among the easiest tools in the web, and it has revolutionized the way that individuals post their opinions.

WordPress was made in 2003 as a way to simplify Internet discussions, but it has become the largest blogging computer program in the globe. It has tons of user-friendly aspects, but the most useful feature of all is that it’s totally free. Anyone can have WordPress to produce their blogs into a sleek graphic web design. Because WordPress is so easy to use and is always obtainable across the net, individuals have latched onto WordPress. There genuinely isn’t an easier instrument out.

Aside from being totally free, WordPress is also popular because of its versatility. People can manipulate the templates provided to fit their needs without having to know HTML, XHTML, or any other net design languages. It’s the best answer for the majority of net bloggers who don’t understand the ins and outs of the Internet universe. WordPress could be employed during the creation and management processes of a blog. It offers management tools that let bloggers have complete control over what they put up. Indeed, its the best solution for anyone who wants to write a blog but doesn’t know how to go about it.

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Freelance Niche: Be Known for Something

With more and more WordPress freelancers out there, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. One way to do it is to find your freelance niche.

freelance niche

Narrowing your focus to a specific niche or specialty can boost your business.

“The number one way to bring in business is to focus on something. … Figure out what you want to focus on and become the absolute best at it.” –Justin Sainton

Why Do I Need a Freelance Niche?

Why you should narrow your focus to a specific freelance niche is a good question. Why would you want to turn clients away?

Simple: Not every paying project is a good step forward for your business.

“Early on we would take any project that walked in the door,” Brad Williams of WebDevStudios said in our recent interview. “This quickly became a problem because we were mediocre at a lot of platforms, but an expert at none. In 2010 we made the decision to go 100% WordPress development and design. From that day forward we focused at being the best at a single platform, which has ultimately helped us refine our message and provide high quality products for our clients.”

It’s easy to be the jack of all trades and master of none. Without a specialty you end up generalizing, and then it’s hard to be good at anything. You can do it, but you’re no expert.

By focusing on a freelance niche you can narrow your efforts and excel in a specific area.

“We are strong proponents of working to your strengths,” said Lisa Sabin-Wilson, also of WebDevStudios, in a recent ‘Ask Me Anything’ on ManageWP. “The more we’ve worked with WordPress over the years, the more our company has emerged as one of the top agencies for WordPress in the world—you don’t get that kind of cred by spreading yourself too thin.”

The main benefit of getting good at something is you become known for it. People want to hire an expert. They want to know the job is done right, not just good enough. By specializing and finding your freelance niche, you do wonders for your brand and reputation. You stand on your strengths.

It’s a lot easier to recommend someone with a specific focus. You might be able to recommend a dozen graphic designers. But how many business card experts can you recommend? When people have specific needs, it helps to have specific skills.

The marketplace is crowded, and finding your freelance niche is a good way to differentiate your business.

What Does a Freelance Niche Look Like?

Finding your specialty can look different for different freelancers.

“Specialize: Don’t try to do it all,” said Chris Lema in another ManageWP ‘Ask Me Anything.’ “Just design websites, don’t also development and host them. Or just develop them. But pick. … Another form of specialization is to focus on a market segment. So just do real estate sites, or just do band sites, or something of that nature. It makes it easy for folks to recommend you.”

There are a lot of ways to specialize, but here are two general approaches:

1. Skill Niche:

Find your niche based on a skill. Yes, you’re a web developer. Now get more specific. Do you focus on WordPress? Ecommerce? Plugins? A specific coding skill? Or more of a client service, such as training or support?

2. Audience Niche:

Another approach is to find your freelance niche based on the audience. Instead of building websites for everyone, focus on a narrow audience. Create sites only for schools or authors or restaurants. Maybe you focus on nonprofits or local associations. You could go another direction and focus on an attitude or style—humor, cutting edge art or extremely simple. Instead of focusing on a business niche like restaurants, you focus on businesses that want extremely simple sites or organizations that want to ride the bleeding edge of website design. You become known as the developer who can build crazy stuff that draws all kinds of attention.

You can take either approach, or go with both. The more narrow your niche, the smaller your potential audience and the easier it will be to become the recognized expert.

Just be careful about getting too narrow. There might not be a market for simplistic nonprofit ecommerce plugins.

It Can Be Scary

Wait, did you say ‘smaller audience’? Why would I want to turn clients away and limit my income potential?

Yeah, finding your freelance niche can be scary. You’ll be turning away clients. That’s hard.

But as you build your reputation and establish yourself in your new niche, you’ll bring in even more clients. It will be easier for people to recommend you, your referrals will increase and you’ll see the benefits of a freelance niche.

You just have to stick to your specialty.

“Be willing to say ‘no’ and ‘I don’t know’ more often,” Bill Erickson said in our recent interview. “Your clients will understand that you don’t know and don’t do everything when it comes to the web. If they ask for something you can’t do, tell them ‘That’s outside my area of expertise, but I can help find a developer who can provide that service.’”

As those recommendations go back and forth, you’ll become known for something. That’s how finding your freelance niche can help you stand out from the crowd.

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Choosing Between the Two WordPress Platforms

I’m often asked “What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org?”

When you go to WordPress.com, you can register for a free WordPress blog. When you go to WordPress.org you can download the WordPress software.

So, what’s the difference between the two?

I once explained that it’s like the difference between having a web-based account, like Hotmail or Gmail to work with your email, or working with email downloaded to your computer using a program like Outlook. Both help you manage your email in similar ways, but one is web-based and the other is a program that you run on your own “server” or hard drive.

When you use WordPress.com to build your blog, the web address for your blog will be yourname.WordPress.com. You will develop your blog on the WordPress.com servers, similar to the way you store and manage your mail through services like Yahoo or other web-based email providers.

On the other hand, when you build your blog or website using a self-hosted WordPress installation, you are using the WordPress.org version of the program. As you may have seen on the WordPress.org website, you have an option to “download” the WordPress program. You may have even downloaded it and then wondered what to do with it.

The actual WordPress program (the kind you download at WordPress.org) is something you can install, run and operate. It’s very much like purchasing software at the computer store, installing it onto your computer, launching it and using it. However, with this downloadable “self-hosted” version of the WordPress program, you wouldn’t normally install it onto your own computer.

The program is usually installed on a Linux server that hosts websites. Many web hosts, have an easy install process for WordPress so that you never have to worry about downloading the actual program.

When you decide you want a self-hosted WordPress website, usually you just need to sign up for a hosting account, register your domain name (and point it to your hosting account by setting your nameservers ), click a few buttons and start using the program.

Although WordPress.com is a free and easy way to get started with your blog, getting a self-hosted WordPress website gives you an amazing amount of benefits.

First, you can install and use premium themes, which gives your WordPress powered website a professional image. You can use plugins to make your website/blog/blogsite do tricks (such as creating contact forms, polls, photo galleries, membership sites and controlling spam).

If you are thinking about starting a blog or have started a blog on free webspace, the benefits of building on or moving your blog to a self-hosted WordPress installation are many.

You can combine both your website and blog on one site, which can be great for search engine indexing and better rankings. We’ve found that Google loves WordPress websites/blogs/blogsites and building yours on a self-hosted WordPress platform gives you a great opportunity to tailor fit your website content to those who are looking for you.

By having an active blog or blog element on your site, you are giving your site visitors (including the Googlebot ) a reason to stay. I won’t go any further into making the case for blogging but I will tell you that if you are a small business, entrepreneur or professional who is serious about your presence on the web, getting yourself up and running with a self-hosted WordPress website may be one of the best things you could do for your online brand.

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Use this Email Marketing Checklist to Avoid Disasters

We’ve all heard the business public relation disasters that occur because someone forgot to double or triple check email communications before they go out to the general public.

Email Marketing Checklist

There are the stories of someone sending an email blast out to customers that contained private information about the company that was meant for just in-house employees. You may have heard of companies that forgot to spell check and ended up sending an email that meant the exact opposite of what they intended.

This email marketing checklist is a starting point to make sure that you don’t end up in an email marketing disaster hole. Print it out, modify it, add to it, but please … establish your own set of “barriers” that you climb over before sending out a massive email blast that could ruin your day.

Email Marketing Checklist

▢   Have you deleted ALL the default template content (pre-headers, alt-tags, etc) that came with your email template? You don’t want to end up promoting MailChimp to your clients because your forgot to remove an alt-tag of a generic image.

▢   Have you READ ALOUD the content of your email? Reading aloud can help catch grammar and style mistakes.

▢   Do you have REALLY LONG sentences in the content area of your email? Remember that short sentences, that are jargon free, are easier to consume by readers of your email.

▢   Did you run spell check? No, I’m serious, did you ACTUALLY run spell check? Fine, go run spell check. (If you get the sarcasm you will see the importance of running spell check.)

▢  Is all the information in your email accurate? We aren’t referring to JUST the factual content of your email but also that all the email addresses inside your email (reply-to), the mailing address/contact information, even the owner’s name of the business. Make sure it’s all correct and you aren’t relying on an old “copy.”

▢   Are all links in the email clearly identifiable as a link? If they are NOT identifiable as a link, how are your readers supposed to know you want them to click on the links?

▢   Is your message focused? Remember to give the reader of an email a focused call-to-action or a singular task you desire them to perform. It is a known truth that if you do NOT ask your readers to do something, they will not do anything. If you ask your readers to do many things, they will not do anything.

▢   Is your brand easily recognizable in the email? Have you included your logo? Are you using the same color palette that you use on your website?

▢   Do you have a way, and have you implemented, a way of tracking analytics INSIDE the email?

▢   Do you have a method setup on your website to track the users that visit the site FROM the email?

▢   Have you scheduled a moment in time (in the future) to analyze the email metrics? It is a good idea to set aside some time 7-9 days after sending the email to deconstruct the data from the email to help you plan and improve the next email.

▢   Is your email list “up-to-date” with opt-in regulations as well as all new subscribers added to the list and all unsubscribers and bounced emails removed?

▢   Are you sending this email to the CORRECT email list? For those email marketers that have multiple lists, it is important to be sending the emails to the corresponding email list.

▢   Have you tested your email subject line to see if it possesses a strong “call-to-open” action?

▢   Have you test-sent your email to multiple addresses that access email on multiple devices: mobile, web-based, desktop, HTML-version and plain text version?

▢   Have you included BOTH an HTML and a plain-text version of your email?

▢   Does your email contain the focus of the email and/or a clear call-to-action within the FIRST 50 characters of the content of the email?

▢   Does your email contain all the necessary disclaimers, copyrights, and privacy policy links/text?

▢   Does your email include a link to view the email as an online webpage? You might be surprised at the number of users who can’t see everything in an email newsletter, either due to their personal settings or a corporate firewall. Having a web-version of every one of your emails you send is important.

▢   Have you included links (and icons) to your social networks? How are your email readers going to follow you in other locations if you don’t let them know about your other networks?

▢   Do you have a clear and FUNCTIONAL unsubscribe link in place?

Hopefully this checklist can help you avoid an “email disaster” and can also help you continue to grow your email list. Do you have any specific checklist items you do before sending that we didn’t list here? Let us know in the comments below.

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