Flashback to 2012: Wordcamp Seattle takeaways from a first-timer

Seattle Art Museum hosted this year’s Wordcamp Seattle on Saturday May 19 and the event was nothing less than amazing!  As a growing enthusiast of WordPress, building all of my client’s websites in this platform over the last couple years, I was in web design heaven at Wordcamp.  Honestly I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at this “conference”.  I have been to many different conferences/seminars over the years and they all were basically the same:  large vendor booths, extra charge for food, large crowded rooms, very expensive and over commercialized.  This was far from the case at Wordcamp.  What other conference can you go to that provides a delicious lunch, a free t-shirt, a “happiness” bar (experts – no booze), fantastic speakers from all over all for only $20?  The event was unpretentious, unsalesy, and unassuming.  It was great to be in a room of beginner users learning techniques for their single website to full blown super smart developers who could probably build a kick-ass WordPress site from scratch in an hour.  I was somewhere in the middle:  the Power User/Designer which was the category of talks that I attended most of the day.

After we gathered for opening remarks from the head organizer, Seattle WordPress expert  Bob Dunn, the show was on.

Lucy Beer, whose Web Training Wheels site I have recently been following, has been using WordPress since 2004 and has a great amount of experience in teaching all levels of WordPress to folks.  Her presentation, Going Beyond the Basics, dug into how to properly change files, the meaning of the most important WordPress theme files,  and what to do if something on your site breaks.  I love her teaching style – very laid back, engaging and easy to understand.  I can tell she is a great teacher to all her clients – something that I aspire to be.

Takeaways from Lucy’s talk: (slides here)

  • If you have purchased a theme that you are customizing, create a child theme and make your changes to that theme’s style.css file so updates do not overwrite your changes.
  • Anatomy of a WordPress Theme by Yoast is a great overview for understanding theme files
  • Favorite part: making live changes to a website’s style in Chrome Developer Tools.  It’s always fun to see a designer work.

The second talk I attended was “Things We Learned the Hard Way, Things WP Pros Wished They’d Known Years Ago” by Michael Pick.  This was a fun and interactive presentation and I really enjoyed the conversations that Michael stirred up in the room: client stories from hell, how to get content from your clients, and pricing strategies.

Takeaways from Michael’s Talk: (slides here)

  • Only download themes and plugins from reliable sources, especially free ones.  Download free themes from the WordPress repository because the WordPress team has carefully reviewed them.  NEVER download a theme from a Google search.  Some creators will purposely add bad code to the themes.
  • The best client from hell story I’ve ever heard:  a client who wanted nothing but black hat techniques, duplicating content across several sites and then wanted to build a site about hypnosis porn.
  • Michael is part of a team that just launched the site www.codepoet.com which houses fantastic content for people who build WordPress sites, including free digital books, “Getting Pricing Right” & “Wordpress Meet Responsive Design”

No presentation was more powerful than Scott Berkun’s Keynote Address about Lessons Learned from a Daily Blogger.  Scott is a best-selling author, creator of the Daily Post  and one incredible speaker.  He even lectures about how to be a great speaker and no wonder –  he makes it look so natural and easy.  My favorite part of his presentation was his honesty about writing content – IT IS WORK!  There is no magic widget or tool that creates blog posts for you.  It takes a fraction of the time to consume a piece of writing than to create it.  After his eye-opening talk,  I had a much bigger appreciation for website content and the high expectations of new bloggers.  Designers can let their ego take over with the look of a site when it is the content that really is the heart of the website.  Next on my reading list, Scott’s book “Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds”.

After a delicious sack lunch from the Sammy Café, there were 2 presentations that really grabbed my attention.

WordPress Security 101, from WordPress Security expert (and local political activist) Andrew Villeneuve, was a mind-blowing reminder of all the ways hackers can get into your computer and WordPress website.  I was overwhelmed at all the ways one should protect their computer and website.  I need to get crackin’.

Takeaways from Andrew’s talk: (slides here)

  • Always keep your WordPress core files, theme and plugins updated to the current version. These updates are key in protecting your site from the latest security holes.
  • Make an offsite backup of your site including all files and your database.  Don’t store it on your hosting server.  Save the backup on your cloud or local drive.
  • Utilize Secure HTTP (Https) for your WordPress administrative sessions. This can be turned on by just adding one line of code to the wp-config.php file after activating or buying secure hosting from your web host.

Last but definitely not least was the information-packed talk by Justin Brigs, SEO for Bloggers.  This guy knows his stuff and he gave the audience tons of online tools for link building and content research.  He was funny, engaging and super smart.  He is only in his mid-20’s and leads the SEO and Social Media team at Big Fish Games and has worked for SEOmoz and consulted with Amazon.  It is no wonder the small room where he spoke was packed!!

Takeaways from Justin’s talk (slides here)

  • Keep it Simple: Put a keyword in title and content & use WordPress.  All great starts to good SEO.
  • Making “deep” content simple is easier for readers to digest and share.
  • Build relationships with experts in your field: www.topsy.com is a great website to find experts to connect with.
  • Being a guest blogger will help boost your traffic.  Find a community of bloggers looking for writers at www.myblogguest.com

These are just a few of the talks presented in 3 different rooms throughout the day.  I believe most were videotaped and will be available on www.Wordpress.tv in the next few weeks.

I learned tons during Wordcamp but my biggest takeaway was how amazingly supportive the WordPress community is.  WordPress seems to be endless in its capabilities and I am excited to have connected with this group who is so willing to teach, help and share their expertise in all areas of this flexible platform.  Can’t wait for Wordcamp Seattle 2013.

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