"Why is my blog posted on a Chinese web site?"

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Welcome to Internet piracy.

Why is my blog posted on a Chinese web site?

Your blog can be “scraped” by illicit web bandits and posted elsewhere.

What is scraping? No more than plain vanilla cutting and pasting — by really fast computers that don’t care what they steal, so long as it’s somewhat popular. Scraped postings usually end up on web sites with advertising.

Stealing is bad enough, but this kind of stealing is worse than bad. Google and some other search engines penalize content that appears more than once.

You never want to have two identical web sites, for instance. I’ve known businesses that have done this, thinking that their content would be found twice as often. In fact, both web sites invariably end up at the bottom of the heap in search engine results.

Guess what? You can’t do much about scraping after the fact, especially if you’re a small business. And if your content has been scraped by an overseas thief … well, I hate to tell you this … but you might be SOL.

Unfortunately, we don’t think that Google’s algorithm yet identifies who the original poster is, so as to give the original web site priority over another. Right now, it appears that both web sites fail.

HOWEVER, in April 2011, Google did start penalizing content “farms” — sites that offer more ads than content. That has been a help, but we’re not sure how much. Check out NPR’s story on content farms.

We hope that piracy is righteously penalized in the famed Google algorithm one day.

For now, check out plug-ins for your blogs. One is WP-Protect (for WordPress). With WP-Protect (free), or a similar product, you can disable text and photo copying. This doesn’t mean that a smart pirate can’t come into your web site and figure out a way to download your stories, but at least it won’t be automatic. These plug-ins are a great deterrent. Whatever your CMS platform, please do a search for copy protection plug-ins. You won’t be sorry.

Go ahead … try to cut and paste even one word from this blog. You’d have to go through several laborious steps to extract any text. And yet … my blog can still offer linked copy, and is still searched by Google’s spiders just fine.

Software like Wp-Protect is, still and always will be (perhaps), a deterrent. Like your home, it is nigh impossible to keep out someone who wants to break in. At least we’re well on the way to creating a burglar-proof web site.

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To use a WordPress template or not?

Joomla

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Should you use a WordPress template or not?

These days, small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have a lot of extra cash for custom design.

There are spectacular templates available that let web designers and developers save a lot of time (and money for the customer). You can pick the look you want, and voila!

Here’s the thing. Working with templates is not as easy as it first appears.

Not all templates are alike. And not all template vendors are alike. I used to buy templates (Joomla, WordPress, and others) from a company known as Template Monster, and I’ve tried a few others as well (such as Theme Forest — please avoid both of these!). I no longer buy from them. Nor do I want you to.

Why?

Template designers for the “factory” web sites such as Template Monster are very uneven in their knowledge of CSS, their own development code (such as WordPress, Joomla, and others)  and of design and WordPress implementation principles in general. If you buy a template from a template factory, you’ve fallen in love with the look. The look may not be something you can work with.

Each template (just like its designer) is different. You may or may not be able to change colors, backgrounds, pictures, links, and other basic criteria with ease. You may not be able to change them at all. These are items I, as a web designer, am normally able to change myself, and that’s fine, but my customer never will be able to. Plus, there’s no refund after purchase. None.

Case in point.

I bought a template for a “quick” web site for a local real estate developer. They didn’t want to “pay a lot for that muffler,” so I went with a template.

As it turns out, the very sexy part of this template is unchangeable. I can’t change the timing of the multimedia slides I insert, nor can I change the slides themselves without getting into PHP code. A good template lets users change things from within the WordPress admin area. The vendor offered to fix the timing issue (which he called a “major customization”) for a price.

I recently purchased a template that claimed to be compatible with WordPress version 2.9. As with software (such as MS Word), I assumed this to mean version 2.9 AND UP. But no.

I also recently purchased a template that I later discovered was not “widget-ready.” Fine print again. I made the template widget ready only to discover that the stock code provided by the designer would not allow the widgets to perform correctly. In fact, the designer’s code was horribly wrong. I had to fix the code. All of this took hours.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been extremely happy with some of the templates, and found that they deliver what they appear to. I consider this luck.

So not only do you need to read the fine print, you need to know your needs EXACTLY if you’re buying a template from a “farm.” And most of us can’t predict ahead of time whether a client will suddenly require a sign-up form, or a slider, or another feature that is incompatible with, or difficult to program, in the purchased template.

There are some very reliable vendors of templates. I’ll mention a few here, and then keep increasing the list as I find more:

These folks stand behind their products and work hard to keep them up to date. But always check a vendor’s return policy and make sure it’s something you can live with. Some will make you prove that the template you purchased is defective (not merely inadequate), and will only offer you a new template, not a refund.

So please don’t fall prey to the “Wild West” of templates. If you insist on building your own website with a template, please contact someone who can help you through the process.

I will say this: If you contact me to help you buy a WordPress theme, I’ll charge you a mere $100 to make the right choice for you. And your theme will probably cost $50-$100. 410.404.5559. Or susan@basecamppro.com. And I can follow through and deliver you a final product for $2,000 and up, depending on your needs.

Happy WordPressing!

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