Giveaway: Joomla Templates from TemplateMonster

Update: The giveaway period has ended.

About TemplateMonster

TemplateMonster home page.

TemplateMonster is a U.S.-based company offering a wide choice of Joomla templates, WordPress themes and other web page designs. There are more than 1,200 Joomla templates in their collection.

They’re also on Twitter as @TemplateMonster — you may want to follow them there too.

How to Win

Update: The giveaway period has ended.

We’re giving out 3 premium Joomla templates to 3 randomly-selected winners. For a chance to win, simply follow the instructions below:

  1. Head over to TemplateMonster’s collection on Joomla templates and navigate to the Joomla template you want to win.
  2. In the comments at the bottom of this post, simply state the name of the template, the URL of the template, and the reason why you want that template.
    • For example: “I want to win Joomla Template #42075 because it’s suitable for my car website redesign. http://www.templatemonster.com/joomla-templates/42075.html”

Giveaway Details

This giveaway ends on Thursday, February 7, 2013 after which the comments section on this post will be closed and you will no longer be able to leave a comment. Please leave a valid email address when filling out the comment form so that we can contact you if you have won. The winners will be announced on a separate post and you’re advised to subscribe to our RSS feed so that you can be quickly notified when we publish the winners announcement post. Please note that comments are moderated and your comment may not show up right away. Please also note that comments that don’t follow the instructions on how to participate (described above) may not be published, or may be removed later on.

An SEO Love Affair with Content Marketing

I Love Juicy Content

Considering the spirit of love floating around with this week’s Valentine’s Day festivities, and perhaps just a hint of animosity many of us single people feel this time of year, I began to ponder where my emotions lie. To no surprise, I ended up thinking of SEO. And it made me realize my own budding love worth celebrating on this oh-so-special day: my love affair with content marketing. Unfortunately for me, I’m not the only one fighting for this love. The whole SEO community seems to have recently realized their newfound love for this marketing strategy. Here’s why…

Content Marketing’s Love Lasts

As a link builder, I’m all too familiar with the concept of link rot. In fact, 6% of the web’s links are broken. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it’s not more than that. But a great deal of link rot is relatable to the quality and type of links built by SEOs. Poor quality links tend to go away quickly.

In the SEO world, content has become the greatest divider between the amateurs and professionals. Content marketing is becoming the center of inbound marketing strategy and a tool for all facets of a campaign including branding, search, social and more. It’s the most sustainable long-term strategy in inbound marketing and it likewise helps boost other factors such as customer loyalty (retention) and conversion.

A content strategy (blogs, case studies, webinars, podcasts, infographics, etc.) allows a brand to illustrate its personality and culture, establish a presence as an expert on given topics, address the needs of viewers and capitalize on the latest trends and biggest news stories. All of these help create an intimate, genuine connection with their followers that is otherwise hard to achieve.

These followers are going to play a big role in your content campaign as well! Links surrounded by quality content will gain more attention and inherently attract more social sharing. All of those tweets, emails and shares become very valuable and drive a ton of traffic.

Why Content Makes A Difference via Google’s Algorithm

Content strategy isn’t just some newfound discovery, shattering the world of SEO as we know it. Google started out with search exclusively focused as a content based index that would allow you to search via a single keyword. Since that inception, Google has introduced new signals related to content and keywords that provide for even more accurate search results. But while Google employs these for better results, it seems to have distracted SEOs from the realization that content is still king. Instead, SEOs obsess over building massive amounts of low quality links even though they can rot away in a matter of months.

While Google does love content, there is still a gap of understanding that the search engine hasn’t bridged: understanding the meaning behind the words. They provide excellent query responses based on keywords in a phrase or the site’s authority for those topics, but ultimately, they lack understanding. In a Mashable Interview, Google software engineer, Amit Singhal, confesses Google’s search can only “cross their fingers and hope someone on the web has written about these things or topics” and hopefully that content contains the keywords and authority required to populate in the SERPs.

For example, while Google may find relevant results for the terms “Star Wars”, it doesn’t necessarily understand that Star Wars is a movie series, released on a certain date, by a certain director. It only realizes that it is different from the terms ‘Star’ and ‘Wars.’

These Times They Are A Changing

To make up for this lack of understanding search queries, Google, always the innovator, wants to revolutionize our expectations of search, taking results beyond keywords and links, into a realm of intelligence and meaning. Google aims to categorize content on the web and associate it with relative attributes, just as your brain naturally does. When these changes occur, Google search will understand what each object is and what you should know about that entity.

In order for Google to carry out these aspirations in having its search engine think just like the human brain, it appears they will have to adventure into the engineering world of artificial intelligence. This doesn’t imply that robots dressed as Arnold Schwarzenegger will attempt to take over our world, but it does mean we have a lot to look forward to. The first steps towards helping Google build what it refers to as the “Knowledge Graph” is through high quality content marketing.

So now that Valentine’s Day is over and all the romance has dropped from our lives again, maybe it’s time to focus on the love that will last — the love between an SEO and Content Marketing. It may lack a little luster, but I’m sure things will pick up if the Terminator does decide to make a comeback with the Google brand on its chest.

One of the most common questions I’ve been getting lately is “should I be on Facebook?”  Well, yes. But why stop there? You should be on Twitter too. And while you’re at it … why not have a blog too?

As an SEO, I’m a huge advocate for social for more reasons than one, but mainly because social is now being integrated into my true passion: search results. Not to mention, an integrated marketing strategy is what gets you places.

1.       Filtered results options in Google

Google Real-Time: Google real-time search elicits results based on concurrent updates. As you search, Google is returning results happening at that exact moment. We’re talking live tweets (which coincidentally is another reason to be social). Now I don’t even have to be on Twitter to see the current trending topics. Talk about up-to-date!

Blogs: Another search filter option in Google is Blogs. This allows users to search for just blogs and nothing else. So in order to ensure results in this filter, you must have a blog, and you must be updating it frequently, because Google gives precedence to those blogs that are most up-to-date, since that’s what users are typically looking for. It should also be noted that the default search of “Everything” integrates blogs into the SERPs as well.

So what benefit do you receive as a company? Presence in the search engines beyond the traditional results. It’s simply not enough to be in the traditional results anymore. Times they are-a-changing; search results are ahead of the times, and you need to be too.

2.       Just last week Bing announced an innovative solution to search.

In a fairly new development, Bing is now integrating Facebook “Likes” into their search results. Bing attributes this initiative to the “Friend Effect”. What is the Friend Effect? I like to refer to it as word-of-mouth marketing; you may have heard of it. Bing’s thought process is this: when a user is at the beginning of the buying cycle, their initial action is going to be exploring user-feedback. Who uses your product? Do they like it? Does it solve their problems? Does it work the way they thought it would? Did it exceed their expectations? These are all questions we like to have answered before making a purchase, and as the product increases in price and value, the more questions we are likely to ask. So Bing thought, why not cut out a few days to several months of the buying cycle and answer these questions for the user immediately?

By seeing those results your friends “like” (and clearly trust), you can be assured knowing your friend’s stamp of approval is on this particular brand, and you can trust it too. Now you can skip filtering through an endless amount of review sites!

So how does this work? Simple: Look for the “thumbs up”. If you have lived anywhere other than under a rock, you know the symbol I’m referring to, and if you don’t, this post is for you.

If you’re searching in Bing for say “coffee shop”, you can see how many of your friends “like” Starbucks on Facebook. This way, if I’m interested in knowing whether or not those closest to me trust the brand, I have this information available right at my fingertips during initial brand comparison. Touché Bing.

Facebook Integration Into Bing

3.       Google and Social Accounts Connection

Similar to Bing, Google also gives preferential treatment to what your friends recommend.

So how does this one work?  If you are signed in to your personal Google account with the same Gmail account you registered with for sites such as Twitter and Flickr, you can see what your friends have shared, and those videos, articles, etc. your friends have shared are given preferential treatment in the results Google returns.

How can you apply this to your marketing strategy? If you have quality content users will want to share or “Retweet” for instance, Google will give your content more weight in the SERPs. See reason #4 for more information on the value of quality content.

As you can see below, when I’m signed in to my Google account, Google customizes my search results to what someone I follow on Twitter has shared. What’s cool about this is you don’t even have to be signed into Twitter, just Google.

Twitter Integration in Google

In the preceding search, I was signed into my Google account. In doing so, Google has ranked “Must Watch” much higher up than it would typically be ranking (as you can see below in the snapshot of the same search of which I am not signed into Google), simply because my friend on Twitter decided it was a link worth sharing. How cool is that?

SERP not logged into Google

4.       The Power of Twitter and The Value of a Retweet

This goes hand in hand with providing quality content that you hope will be shared and thus given preferential treatment in the search engines. The way to ensure this happens is quality content. The end goal in mind being the ‘retweet’: talk about viral. With the simple click of a ‘Retweet’ button, users who don’t even follow you are subject to your tweets by people they choose to follow, and we can safely assume, trust their opinion. Word-of-mouth marketing (yet again) anyone? I thought so.  Not to mention when you have a tweet that has been ‘retweeted’, you are more likely to appear in the Twitter search, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps even the coveted “Trending Topics”. More visibility on the Internet? I’ll take it.

So how do you get users to ‘retweet’ your tweets? By writing compelling tweets. And what’s more … the constant desire to compel users to hit the ‘retweet’ button forces you to be a better tweeter. And, speaking as an avid Tweeter, more high quality tweets make for a more high quality Twitter experience; one in which users will greatly appreciate.

5.       Meeting customers where they’re at

OK, so this one’s pretty obvious and it’s probably safe to assume you don’t need a whole lot of explanation, but whether it goes without saying or not, it’s a fact you simply can’t deny.  Facebook statistics show there are more than 500 million active users, while the average user has 130 friends and over 700 billion minutes are spent PER MONTH on this social platform. Twitter is following suit as users around the world begin to jump on the bandwagon. As if these statistics aren’t reason enough, you’re also meeting customers where they’re at in the search engines (you simply can’t deny your customers are using these) thanks to social integration; and this is accomplished simply by incorporating the social factor into your overall Internet marketing strategy. But, if you’re still not convinced from an SEO standpoint, at least recognize the value of dialoguing with your customers.

The significance of a search marketing campaign is simply undeniable in today’s market, and now social can act as a support system to your overall Internet marketing strategy. Social is here to stay; so basically I can sum this post up into one last ‘ground-breaking’ thought: if you’re not being social, you are missing out on the conversation.

Make a Stunning Black & White Falling Scene in Photoshop

Preview

Note: This tutorial features a nude subject, and thus, this tutorial contains nudity for artistic purposes.

Click on the image below to view its full size.

Preview

Tutorial Resources

Step 1: Import the composition’s subject

Open model and model1 in Photoshop. Make a new document (Ctrl/Cmd + N) with Width at 3858px, Height at 2398px and 180 dpi.

Paste both images into this new document.

Select the first stock image in the Layers Panel and click on Edit > Transform > Rotate 90o CCW. Resize the image a little with the Free Transform command (Ctrl/Cmd + T) and place it right in the middle of the canvas with the Move Tool (V).

Now select the second image and choose Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Use the Eraser Tool (E) to erase everything roughly with a soft brush tip except the subject’s legs. Resize and place this over the body of the first image.

Take the Eraser Tool again and erase (with a soft brush) the hips of the second image to blend both images together.

The most important thing is that you don’t miss the proportions to make it look realistic.

Blending two images together

Next, render out the model with the Lasso Tool (L) or the Pen Tool (P). You don’t need to do this perfectly.

Step 2: Cut out several sections of the subject

Take the Lasso Tool (L), select an area of the model’s head and remove it (hit the Delete key).

Make a new layer behind this image, try to select the same shape with the Lasso Tool, pick a skin color of her face with the Eyedopper Tool (I) and fill the selection with your chosen color using the Paint Bucket Tool (G).

Make a new layer. Apply a clipping mask to this new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + Alt + G). Select a soft brush and brush with black on the inside of your shape.

Reduce the Opacity if needed, and if you want to, you can give the layer a Gaussian Blur filter to soften up rough edges.

Cutting out the face

Do the same thing with her arm, hand, and other body parts. You can use any shape and erase any part you want to. The exception here is that I didn’t erase parts of her hips: instead, I selected the lips with the Lasso Tool (L), right-clicked on the selection in the canvas and then chose Layer via Cut from the contextual menu. I then displaced it a little using the Move Tool (V).

Addtional cutting

Here’s our subject now.

Outcome

Step 3: Work on the subject’s background

Open the image of the stormy sea and place it into our canvas behind our subject.

Duplicate the stock image’s layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J) and flip it horizontally (Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal).

Take the Lasso Tool and select some parts of the sea, copy (Ctrl/Cmd + C) the selected regions, paste (Ctrl/Cmd + V) it, and move it around a bit so it doesn’t look too mirrored anymore.

Take the Eraser Tool with a soft brush and erase the edges of these parts to blend them together.

Inserting the sea

Step 4: Add clouds to the background

First make a new layer and fill it with black. Set the new layer’s Opacity to 50%.

Next, open the cloud image, duplicate and flip it horizontally just like we did in the previous step. You can copy and paste parts of the clouds here, too. Set the Blend Mode of the cloud layer to Overlay.

Insert the first and second space image and set the layer’s blend modes to Lighten. Erase the bits where the space images are too bright for your tastes.

Inserting the Cherry Tree

Step 5: Further adjustments on the body

First duplicate our subject on a new layer (Ctrl/Cmd + J).

Use the Liquify filter (Filter > Liquify or Shift + Ctrl/Cmd + X) and simply smudge around.

Again, duplicate that layer and give it a Motion Blur filter (Filter > Motion Blur) — set the Angle to about 53o and the Distance to about 500px.

Move that layer upwards in the Layers Panel so that the image with the Motion Blur is only above the body, making it look like our subject is falling into the sea.

Adjustments on the body

Tip: If you want, you can take a soft and small white brush and brush on the edges of parts of the body you edited in Step 2. Set the layer’s Blend Mode to Soft Light and set the layer Opacity to around 50%. This looks especially better on brighter areas, giving the edges a slight bevel effect.

Optional Highlights

Step 6: Make it rain

Download and install the rain brushes and brush around the canvas until the whole scene is covered with rain. Reduce the Opacity of the layer if you want the rain to be more subtle — in my case, around 51% does the trick.

Adding rain

Step 7: Color adjustments and sharpening

Create three black and white gradient map adjustment layers by clicking on the Create a new fill or adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel. Leave the first one as it is (default setting), set the second one’s Blend Mode to Multiply and Opacity to 71% and set the third one’s Blend Mode to Luminosity.

Now would be a good time to save your work or create a layer comp. Merge all layers by right-clicking on any layer in the Layers Panel and choosing Flatten Image.

Finally, run the Sharpen filter by clicking on Filter > Sharpen > Sharpen and you are finished with the tutorial!

Color adjustments and sharpening

Tutorial Summary

In this digital art tutorial, you have learned how to create a realistic falling scene by merging images together, adding a motion blur and using rain that flows into the same direction. I hope you found this tutorial useful and look forward to your questions and comments.

Preview

Download Tutorial Source Files

Extra! Extra! Our Blog Looks Like a Newspaper!

post-imageAs I mature as a designer I’m seeing more and more the great importance of doing some research before jumping into a design. A classic example of this is our very own blog (yes, the one you’re reading right now!).

The planning that went into creating this blog was probably a lot more than one would expect. Xander and I sat down one fateful sunny afternoon (we won’t discuss how cold it was outside) and discussed what we wanted to accomplish with the blog, who our target was, how we would reach them and still push the envelope for inspirational creativity.

We boiled it down to two options: we could focus on just utilizing our blog to gather links and boost internet presence, or we could create a design that would mix the blogging world with traditional newspapers. The latter built a better argument. A large number of our clients (consequently also our target market) aren’t you’re typical “Blog Readers”, so our angle would be to try and bridge the gap between something they were comfortable with: reading a morning paper over some hot java, and something we were comfortable with: pining over blog posts looking for the latest tips and tricks.