As one of the more than 400 participants at the WordCamp 2007 on July 21-22 in San Francisco, a fantastic gathering of WordPress developers, hackers, bloggers, and fans, I’m still reeling with all the positive feedback and lessons learned during the jammed-packed weekend.
To sum it up, it was a weekend of the social and the myths. A lot of social interaction, networking, discoveries, and incredible lessons in the social nature of blogging, spiced with a lot of blogging and web myths brought out from the shadows into the light and blasted away. I’ll cover the social and many of the myths in part one of this two part series, and tomorrow, I’ll share more about WordPress-related tips and news.
While my presentation was on making those blogging connections, the whole weekend was filled with meeting the whose who of WordPress and the WordPress Community. I met bloggers of all different types and styles and found commonality beyond just sharing our love of WordPress.
It’s clear that the blogging community, as well as the WordPress Community, is alive and full of energy and enthusiasm. I was amazed at the number of people who came up to me during the weekend asking how they could help with the WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress users, and on the WordPress Support Forums and other volunteer activities within the WordPress Community.
We rubbed shoulders with the creme de la creme of blogging and the web such as John Dvorak and Om Malik, the master of WordPress Matt Mullenweg, Matt Cutts, and Dave Winer, considered by many as one of the fathers of blogging. Ego went out the window as we were all bloggers there to learn more about our favorite blogging tool.
Destroying Blogging Mythologies
There are a lot of myths that build up around a trend that turns into a social norm, and blogging is no different. A lot of those myths were dispelled over the weekend concerning blogging, blog writing, SEO, WordPress, Automattic, and WordPress.com.
Here are some of the truths revealed throughout the weekend.
Blog Multimedia Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
Right from the start, the first myth destroyed was about adding multimedia to your blogs. Many are intimidated and overwhelmed with the technology, though enchanted. It’s still a big fear hoop people feel like they have to jump through to add multimedia to your blog.
Podcasting master Dan Kuykendall, the author of PodPress WordPress Plugin, started off the weekend with some great tips and information on how to add video, music, podcasts, and other multimedia to your blogs through the fantastically easy-to-use PodPress Plugin.
There are many ways of easily adding multimedia to your blog. It doesn’t have to be hard. It doesn’t have to be intimidating. With the right tools, it’s almost too easy. A blog is still all about the words, but it can also be about so much more. Why not experiment by adding some multimedia to your blog.
Bloggers Are Publishers
While blogging, in general, began as online journaling, sharing our personal lives with others, it has evolved into a new form of journaling, a form of journalism. The Publish button on your Write Post panel isn’t there as a joke. It’s a serious button that says “This commits your writing to a form of permanency, viewable by the world.” With that button press comes a lot of responsibility that many bloggers are just discovering.
John C. Dvorak and Om Malik tackled the myth of journalism verses blogs and were amazingly honest when these veteran news writers admitted that blogs are threatening the business and life of magazines and newspapers.
Many bloggers are sharing the news, technological reviews and discoveries, and becoming a source for “news” to many online readers around the world. Bloggers give insights into the experiences of the news, not just the facts of the events.
The responsibility of the Publish button comes with no rules, no laws, other than a country’s specific freedom of speech or lack thereof laws. It comes with an inherent invisible responsibility for each blogger to make it matter when they press that button and deliver unto the world their words.
Both men recommended bloggers learn more about libel laws in their country, to protect themselves and their blogs and learn how to get away saying what they can, and not saying the combination of words that could land them in jail.
What you do with it is up to you, but never forget that you are not just a blogger, you are a web publisher.
People Know When Bloggers Are Faking It
During my presentation, many were taken with the question: Can you tell when a blogger is faking it?
I asked them how and they came up with some eye-opening answers which included:
- Too many ads indicates intent is money not content and sincerity.
- When “factual” information is clearly wrong, not researched nor supported.
- When assumptions become facts.
- When ego gets in the way of content and honesty (too much “me” and not enough information or content.
- Nothing but blockquotes, no additional content added.
- Twitter re-posting.
- Poor writing or misspelled words.
- They blog as someone they are not (example – a 40 year old man blogging as a 14 year old teenager).
- Lack “personality” in their blogs and blog writing.
- You don’t know who they are, so why should you trust them.
A lot of bloggers realized that they have been blogging under the myth that their content alone speaks for them, when there is more to the content than meets the eye. All parts of your blog convey information about who you are, what you blog about, and the sincerity of the information you are passing along to the world when you hit publish.
And if these bloggers can spot a blogger whose faking it, your readers can.
How You Monetize Your Blog is a Reflection of Your Blog
Many myths were exploded during the presentation by Jeremy Wright of b5media, and his 3-person panel of volunteers discussing blog monetization. One of the most important myths explored was the idea that any ad is a good ad.
The three panelists all agreed that the ads must match not only the content but the intent of the blog. For Eric Nakagawa of ICanHasCheezburger, one of the most popular blogs hosted by WordPress.com featuring funny cat pictures and cartoons, he realized early on that unless the ads added value to the blog, they were just ads and did little.
Another important myth debunked was the fact that the majority of income made from blogging comes from indirect income, not blog ads. There are few people whose sole income is generated by ads on blogs. Most get their income as a result of blogging, using their blogs to promote their services, business, and products, by presenting programs, teaching, selling books, offering consulting, and other indirect sources.
Too many bloggers aren’t learning this lesson fast enough, thus fill their blogs with ugly, eye-sore ads which don’t do much but help dilute their blog’s reputation and often send readers away. If you are going to add ads to your blog, make sure they add value to your blog.
Usability Isn’t About How You Use Your Blog
Robert Hoekman, Jr., author of Designing the Obvious, and Liz Danzico of Happy Cog tackled the issue of blog design and usability and broke the myth that blog and web design isn’t just about usability, meaning how you use your blog, it’s about how your readers use your blog.
Many have long known this, but rarely put it into practice. Your blog isn’t about you. It’s about your readers, thus, its design should be about them and their needs, not yours to make pretty.
In my program, I discussed how to keep readers and encourage the blog conversation by making your blog feel familiar to a new visitor. It should say “This is the place for the information I need.” It should feel comfortable to the visitor, familiar and safe. They know here are the answers they need.
Hoekman and Danzico discussed web design from the “user interface experience”, as they both specialize in software design as well as web interface design, and applied that to blog design. Hoekman recommended using the “5-second test”, asking people to look at your blog for 5 seconds and then write down everything they can remember afterwards. That tells you a lot about what is “seen” in that first impression many consider so important. Are the visitors seeing the most important things you want them to see in those 5 seconds?
Danzico, handling the restructuring and redesign of the WordPress Administration Panels, learned two important lessons in their study of the redesign.
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – though there is always room for improvements.
- Just because one way works for everyone else, doesn’t mean that way works for everyone.
Her company’s research found that while there is room for improvement in the WordPress Administration panels, it works. Changing it doesn’t make it work better. There is room for improvement, but they learned that as it stands now, it does work, so make it better not changed.
She also talked about how their research into how other online companies were using graphics as visual clues for the next task in the operation of the programs, changing the word commands in the WordPress Admin Panels to graphics didn’t work for WordPress users. The words were enough to tell them “Write”, “Manage”, and “Comments”. Pretty picture icons weren’t necessary. After all, blogging is about writing, so why not keep the words.
Is there something on your blog that isn’t broken but could be better, increasing the usability for your users? Or have you been using trial and error to change things on your blog when it wasn’t really broken in the first place? Oh, I’ve done that!
Fighting for PageRank Won’t Necessarily Get You PageRank
Matt Cutts of Google helped dispell a lot of SEO and PageRank myths. His first example was of a blog that offers a longevity gimmick with magnets and how they use the fact that Google has banned them as part of their marketing campaign. Cutts made it clear that it wasn’t the ridiculous gimmick, nor the bad pre 1999 web design, or the lies that got this site kicked off Google. It was the hundreds of hidden keywords on topics that had absolutely nothing to do with the site’s purpose, like Britney Spears, car racing, sex, porn, etc.
Cutts made it clear that if you play games with search engines, especially Google, you will be punished. You will lose. They know all the tricks, and if you come up with a new one, they will figure it out before you have much time to spread the news.
He recommends that before you get noticed, create content worth linking to, and then let Google find your blog naturally. Too many people wave their hands screaming “Notice my blog! Notice my blog!” when they’ve only been blogging a month and have 6 posts. Create content filled with keyword-rich search terms and create content worth linking to and Google will find you.
With all the SEO tricks and tips out there, for the most part, WordPress blogs are SEO ready and little needs to be done to them outside of content. It is content where the work begins in getting noticed and categorized by Google.
- Write keyword-rich content that includes search terms.
- Title your blog posts with search terms.
- Don’t worry about duplicate content as it’s natural on blogs.
- Blog naturally and create linkable content and the rest will happen naturally.
I’ll cover more on WordCamp 2007 with some myths and news about WordPress tomorrow.