The Pitfalls of a Free WordPress Theme

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If you’re thinking of starting a blog or website on a budget WordPress is probably your best free option. As it’s WordPress you’ll have the choice of a number of free themes that you can use. There are even free responsive design themes to choose from. However a free theme may not be the best choice.

A Free Theme May Have Poor Code

The code for a free theme may not be as clean as with a premium, paid for theme. There may be bugs and structure issues that need to be fixed, but that cannot be fixed without upgrading to the premium version. They may also be poorly set up for SEO.

A Free Theme May Not Be Current

A free theme is often released as a lead generator. The designer will be hoping you’ll want more functionality and upgrade to the premium version. Some designers won’t keep the free version up to date, thinking it will make you even more likely to upgrade. Unfortunately an older theme that is not updated may be less compatible with the lastest and best plug-ins, and become vulnerable to security issues.

A Free Theme May Not Be Entirely Under Your Control

There may be some aspects of a free theme that you will not have permission to change. For example it may include encrypted links to ads that are displayed in the site’s footers. Some of these may be inappropriate to your website.

A Free Theme Usually Has Fewer Features

Developers are going to spend more time making a premium paid-for theme better so that it can compete in the premium theme marketplace. Consequently it will often have a number of features that the free themes don’t offer. These can include more flexibility, better compatibility with different browsers, and can also include access to FAQs and even one-on-one support.

A Free Theme May Not Be Free

In the long term a free theme may cost in terms of time and effort in getting it and keeping it working correctly. WordPress are now making updates more frequently. This can stop a theme working, and if you have an inflexible free theme that offers little support you may need to find a better, newer theme.

The bottom line is a premium WordPress theme will have more features and be more robust. If you look at premium themes you’ll find more designs that are responsive, an important consideration now that many of your potential visitors are getting online via a mobile device. Although a premium theme has a price, it will also help you avoid issues with WordPress upgrades. When you purchase a premium theme you become a designer’s customer, and that means they’ll want to keep their themes working well to keep you happy and avoid negative feedback.

WordPress Plugins That Encourage Comments

Plugin search boxOne of the purposes of a blog is to encourage some interaction with the readers. This is usually in the form of comments which is why so many WordPress themes come with comment forms already setup.

However there are some plugins that can improve the likelihood and value of commenting. Here I give some details of the more common comment related WordPress plugins including the ones I have used to date.

Better WordPress Recent Comments

This plugin displays lists of recent comments at specific locations on your blog. The list is updated when a visitor adds a comment or when a comment is approved by a moderator. The list can help stimulate discussion and encourage readers to explore parts of your blog they may not otherwise have visited.

CommentLuv

When someone leaves a comment on one of your posts this plugin visits the site of the comment author and finds their own latest blog post. It then creates a link to that post at the bottom of their comment on your blog.  This enables commenters to showcase their own posts, which is a great way to encourage comments.

You can also offer the commenter the opportunity to register to your site and unlock advanced features. These include being able to choose which of their own ten most recent posts their comment is linked to.

I used CommentLuv on this site till recently and definitely found that it encouraged comments.

KeywordLuv

It is generally accepted that a variety of  keywords in the anchor text of backlinks to your site can improve the search engine ranking of the site. One source of backlinks are comments on DoFollow blogs, but often the anchor text is just your name. While this can help you rank well for your name, it does not help you rank for any other keywords.

KeywordLuv enables a commenter to include keywords in a backlink and so is another way to encourage more people to comment. It requires a DoFollow plugin to be effective.

Facebook Comments by Alex Moss

Created by 3 Door Digital, I have seen a number of internet marketers recommend this plugin, though I have not used it myself. It requires an app and can be inserted automatically or manually within any page, post or template.

Facebook Comments by Fat Panda

This also needs a Facebook app, but it’s so easy even I was able to set this up. The plugin replaces the default WordPress commenting with the Facebook Comments widget. One feature I like about this plugin is that it keeps all of your previous WordPress comments and displays them below the Facebook box.

Jetpack Comments

This comes as part of the Jetpack plugin and enables a commenter to use  their WordPress.com, Twitter or Facebook accounts to post a comment.

Akismet

This plugin checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not and lets you review the spam it catches under your blog’s “Comments” admin screen. It needs an Akismet.com API key to use it. These are free for personal blogs and paid subscriptions are available for businesses and commercial sites.

Spam Destroyer

This plugin stops automated spam and is really easy to set up and use. I have used it for a while and to date it has caught every spam comment that has tried to darken the pages of my blog.

An Unexpected Problem Solved

Having mentioned the anti spam plugin Spam Free WordPress in an earlier post I have had to change it.

Earlier today I suddenly discovered that on each of my post pages the box for leaving a reply to the post was at the top right of the page instead of below the post. Even worse the incorrectly located box was overlaid by the image of my ebook. The whole thing looked a mess.

Initially I had no idea what was going on and almost slipped into the panic that most non-techy blog owners would be likely to fall into. However there is an alternative, better approach.

First you have to deduce what could have caused the problem. You do that by identifying if anything about the blog has changed recently. The only change I had recently made was to upgrade each of the three plugins on the blog. By deactivating each one in turn I found the problem disappeared when the anti spam plugin was deactivated.

To double check that the upgrade was the problem I then deleted and reloaded the plugin. The problem persisted.

You often have to use some logical detective work like this when there is a problem.

One of the great things about WordPress is the depth of resources there are for it. Most plugins have alternatives and considering how important it is to stop spam comments that’s just as well.

A quick look through the alternatives and the old plugin was replaced with Spam Destroyer. Hopefully it will prove a good choice and perform without a glitch. If it doesn’t I’ll let you know.

Steps I Took Before My First Post

Before I even wrote my first post for this blog there were several decisions and choices to be made. If you’ve not started your own blog yet or wonder what plugins to use I’m hoping this may be of some help.

The first decision was to use a self hosted WordPress site. WordPress because it’s easy to use and has lots of features that can be added; self hosted because it gives me more control and reliability. If you’re building a site on your own domain it cannot be taken away from you without warning.

The next decision was which theme to use. Ones I have used in the past now look a bit cluttered to me or are not what I wanted.

I had two criteria for the theme. Firstly I wanted to get momentum and didn’t want to spend a lot of time deciding on the theme when I could have been working on content or traffic generation. Secondly I was looking for a ‘clean’ theme. I took an hour to chose the Origin theme.

However I wanted to make some changes to the basic layout (for example the size of the header image) and did not find making the changes intuitive. In fact I almost went back to an old theme I had used before, but persevered and have kept it.

The basic message here is don’t waste a lot of time on the theme. Get on and remember you can always change it later.

Next I decided which plugins to use. This was based on my own blogging experience and recommendations some internet marketers had made on their own blogs.

I decided on the following basic plugins: The All in One SEO Pack to help make my content more Search Engine friendly; BackupBuddy to backup my blog related files and content so if any thing should happen to the site I will be able to restore it, and Spam Free WordPress which blocks spam comments.

That was all. I plan to revisit plugins at a later date and add others, especially when the blog is getting more visitors. Again notice I was wanting to get on, not spend a lot of time on this.

One last thing I did to set up the blog was to go into the Settings Menu and change the permalinks setting. The default is not very helpful as it produces page URLs that include just a jumble of letters and numbers. To make the page url more descriptive and seo friendly select the ‘post name’ format instead. If you’re reading this post on its own page you’ll see that the URL above gives you an idea about the page’s content.

At this point I was ready to start writing. Before I wrote my first post I put together something for the About page. If you’re not known online you need to start building recognition and trust and this is just a small but important step in that direction. Again I didn’t want to spend too long on this and was aware that I could rewrite and update it later.

Finally I wrote my first blog post. In fact take a look in the comments for that post and you’ll see I overlooked giving it a Category such was my focus on getting things started quickly.

Since then apart from adding post Categories I’ve only made two further changes, both related to the blog actually getting visitors. One was to set up a Gravitar so I would have my image beside any post comment replies, and the other was to add a means of tracking visitors, but that’s a topic for another post.

I hope this was helpful. If you’ve set up a blog let me know how you did it differently, and let me know if you think focussing on getting started quickly was the right way to go.