Patrick spent too many years wrangling content on websites for the BBC, Northcliffe newspapers and local government before turning to Moghill and business websites in 2010. He can sometimes be found under his mountain bike.
We just came back from WordCamp Europe, a gathering of more than 800 WordPress professionals from 51 countries.
Most, if not all the countries of Europe were represented, with strong contingents from the Netherlands, the USA and of course, this year’s host nation, Bulgaria.
Thankfully for us, proceedings were entirely in English.
For those who don’t know, WordPress is the software we use to build all of our websites, but it’s more than just a collection of code.
It’s a community – and one that welcomes anyone who uses WordPress, from the small business website owner to advanced web developers and agencies who build highly customised WordPress websites for international companies.
WordPress also supports a whole ecosystem of companies providing products and services. It’s becoming big business, but people remain at its core.
So what happens at a WordCamp?
WordCamp Europe is one of those places where the WordPress community comes together to hear more than 30 talks over two tracks and two days, covering every subject from security issues, to business and even health. A full list of speakers and talks is available on the WordCamp Europe website.
WordCamp is a place where people all come with the same philosophy: They are there to learn, to improve what they do, but also to share.
The various talks are only part of the picture, as everyone there is eager to meet new people and forge new connections – both personal and professional.
In fact you can often find yourself suddenly in conversation with them at the after party!
The ethos of self improvement extends to those who provide services to WordPress users, such as plugin developers.
At WordCamp we were able to connect with many developers whose products or services we use, provide valuable feedback and develop a relationship that helps them improve what they do, and helps us improve our service to our clients. Everybody wins.
It continues with the WordCamp speakers, many of whom can command high fees to appear at other conferences. At WordCamp they don’t get a penny, yet the likes of Chris Lema, Mark Jaquith and Tony Perez not only gave their time but flew in from half way around the world.
To share their knowledge.
And that extends to the organisers, who put months of hard work into setting up everything to make WordCamp Europe a slick and well-organised event – all on a voluntary basis.
Between the talks the halls were buzzing with people of all nationalities getting to know each other, helping each other, sharing information. Collaborating. With people who are essentially their competitors.
This mindset was best summed up in the talk by Simon Wheatley, of one of the UK’s top Wordpress agencies, Code For The People.
Code For The People lives by WordPress’ collaborative principles, sometimes competing with others in the same space, but sometimes working directly with competitors to help WordPress move forward as a whole.
We are not normal, he told us, yet collaboration can be married with solid business principles that not only help us and our clients, but the wider world, too.
It should come as no surprise that this is the approach adopted by the WordPress community, and in particular Automattic, the company that guides WordPress and its development, among other things. Automattic, led by WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg (another speaker at WordCamp Europe) has working practices that are unconventional to say the least. The WordPress system is open source, and contributing to it on a voluntary basis is encouraged through the Contributor Day that takes place after the two day conference. After all many of us make a living through WordPress, and it’s great to be able to give something back.
If your career/company is centered around WordPress, you have a huge interest in it still being around tomorrow. We’re in this together. <3 — Andrew Nacin (@nacin) October 2, 2014
You don’t have to be able to write code to contribute to WordPress, as everyone is split into groups according to skills and what they want to work on.
More than 180 turned up to the Contributor Day, which was held at the Sofia offices of SiteGround, a managed hosting company that offers specialised services for WordPress – so they gave something back by sponsoring the WordCamp.
Some went to work on improvements coming in the next version of WordPress, others on fixing reported bugs, others still on translating WordPress into yet more languages, while another group answered support requests on wordpress.org.
Although we’ve been to five WordCamps before, we’d never taken part in a Contributor Day. We ended up volunteering for a mini project that suited our skills perfectly, under the leadership of Sara Rosso of Automattic.
There were eight of us from five different countries, working together to create an outline for the project that we will all continue to collaborate on remotely – something that will be of use to the WordPress community worldwide. That’s the spirit of the Wordpress community.
If you can’t spare the time for a WordCamp, then why not try a local meet? And this brings us on to…
So why don’t we do this here in Shropshire?
But if we can do this in Bulgaria, why can’t we do it here in Shropshire?
There must be dozens of companies using WordPress and hundreds of people running their own WordPress websites, yet there’s no WordPress community like you’ll find in other areas – Cumbria for example.
And while we have the excellent ShropGeek for all in the tech industry, we have nothing dedicated to WordPress alone.
In our experience, most of the companies in the Shropshire area who build websites regard each other with suspicion. As the competition. That’s a missed opportunity.
Most business people who run their own WordPress websites do so in isolation here. There’s no need for that.
We don’t share ideas, inspiration, knowledge or experience with each other – but if we did we would all benefit.
Many of use owe a lot to WordPress, and you can give back by sharing with others, even collaborating on work to help move the software forward.
The first step could be many things – a LinkedIn group, a local meetup, even our own website, but if you want to help build a WordPress community in Shropshire and the surrounding area then please get in touch.
If you’re logging into your WordPress website for the first time in a while, you’ll notice things have changed. Here’s a quick guide to setting things up the way you need them.
The old dashboard, where you ended up immediately after you log in, was looking a little tired, so it’s had some improvements as part of the latest upgrade to WordPress 3.8.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the menu on the left is now black, but that’s just the start.
A fresh, uncluttered design that is clearer and easier to use
New typography optimised for desktop and mobile viewing
Better contrast and higher definition graphics
A fully responsive (i.e. mobile friendly) admin area
Further improvements for site administrators
It may come as a shock at first, so the purpose of this post is to help you set up the admin the way you want it.
How to set up your admin colour scheme in WordPress 3.8
The new admin area gives you the option to use any one of eight different colour schemes.
You can stick with the standard black, or go for blue, red, purple or coffee tones. Here’s how to do it.
From the Users menu, select Your Profile. You can also select this from the dropdown in the top right that says Howdy, (Your Name)
Under Personal Options you’ll see an option for Admin Colour Schemes. Click the button next to any colour scheme and you’ll get an instant preview.
Your changes are instant so you don’t need to save the settings.
And that’s it!
A note about WordPress updates
If you have a website with Moghill Web Services, you will find the updates have already been done for you as part of our managed hosting service.
If you manage your own site, or your designer does it for you, we urge you to upgrade as soon as possible. It’s a simple process, as long as you take a back-up before running the updates. If you have any questions or need help, then please contact us.
Why you need to update your WordPress (and its plugins)
If you spend any time looking around the web, the chances are you will have come across the latest craze that’s pretty much guaranteed to annoy – or at the very least confuse website visitors: Pop up light boxes, also known as interstitials.
FAQ pages are quite possibly one of the laziest crimes in website usability. If you have one on your site, you need to get rid of it. Here’s how.
Frequently Asked Questions. This is traditionally the place that website owners dump the content they don’t know what to do with – or really can’t be bothered giving it enough thought.
They are about the convenience of the website owner but never, never are they about making things easier for the website visitor, which should always be your focus.
In short the FAQ page is a sticking plaster solution for poor information architecture. In the early days of the web they were useful, but things have moved on and the FAQ page has been left behind.
Take the name: How does a random visitor to your website know whether these questions are asked frequently or not? It’s as if we are expecting visitors to sort out our content for us.
What does FAQ even mean?
Many website visitors don’t even understand what FAQ means, therefore they ignore it. User testing indicates those who do know what it means only ever use it if all else fails.
It’s neither useful nor helpful, unless you’re the person putting the website together. But then you might as well just take all the information from your FAQ page and put it in a new page called Miscellaneous. Or Information. Or even Page.
Website visitors – or to use their proper name: customers – deserve better treatment than this. We should be making it easier for them, not harder.
But FAQ pages are a nightmare, usually presented in a question and answer format that makes them difficult to read or take in.
That’s because everything you find on an FAQs page belongs somewhere else, if only someone would spend the time thinking about where it should be.
If all else fails then make it up
In one large organisation where I worked the various website authors were obsessed with FAQs. Every time a new section was launched, there would be an accompanying FAQ page. Sometimes it would run into hundreds of words, sometimes it would only be a couple of forlorn questions.
My job was (to try) to filter out the worst content before it made it onto the website, so I would always begin by asking if anybody had ever asked any of these ‘Frequently’ Asked Questions.
Nearly always the answer was: ‘No but we had to put something in the FAQ page…. And we must have an FAQ page…’
So these questions were not frequently asked or even asked at all.
And this is often the case as FAQ pages are filled up with imaginary, sometimes off the wall, questions that nobody ever asked. Things like ‘Who built this brilliant website?’
How to get rid of your FAQ page
The secret behind making your website work for your customers – and turning visitors into customers – is in understanding that all web content should be about answering the questions of your website visitors.
Visitors arrive at a website with a task in mind and questions they need answering. These are the real Frequently Asked Questions.
But the answers should not be tucked away and hard to find, they should be obvious and easy to spot: Don’t make your website visitors work for the answers they need.
If your website has an FAQ page start by reviewing it.
Are the questions and answers really things your customers want to know or are the questions just made up? Are some of them so important that they need to be given greater prominence? Should they even be on the website at all?
If the questions/answers are useful to visitors they should be – usually with the other information on the same topic.
Some FAQs may be pointing at a more serious issue – something on your site that is so hard to use that people need instructions. In this case it would be better to look at fixing the original problem than challenging users to work it out with the aid of instructions. Few have the patience to do this.
For example, if one of your FAQs is ‘How do we contact you’ then obviously you need to make it easier for people to find your contact page, or make it better so people don’t have to ask.
And here’s the point: Websites are becoming more customer focussed these days. If your site serves its visitors properly you don’t need an FAQ page.
If you have one you need to question whether your site is serving your customers the best way it can, or whether you are just using your FAQ page as a crutch to make up for poor design.
WordPress is popular – it’s now 20 per cent of websites – and that’s what makes it a target for hackers who know some people will always leave their websites to go out of date, often because they don’t know any better.
As it happens the WordPress development team works hard to ensure the software is as secure as it can be, which is one reason why it is updated relatively often.
It could be argued they are getting better and better at it.
Last week the latest version of WordPress – 3.7 – came out and includes the ability to do security updates automatically, which is a big step forward. But there are still lots of sites that are running old and vulnerable versions, just sitting there waiting to be hacked.
If you have a website, chances are you get bombarded with emails from Search Engine Optimisation ‘specialists’ offering to get you onto page 1 of Google. But can they really help your site do better in web searches? We look at the truth behind the claims of the SEO email spammers.
We thought we would take three of them up on their offer of a free report and website analysis.
For the test we used a hobby site of ours, ApriliaFutura.co.uk. The site isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough and most importantly sits at the top of Google searches for lots of the appropriate search terms.
Unsurprisingly each of the companies found a lot wrong with the site and offered to do lots of totally unnecessary work to put right problems that didn’t exist.
Their claims – and the true position – are posted here so that you won’t fall for them if someone tries to tell you this is what you need.
All three reports we received insisted there were no links anywhere on the web pointing at our website – they included a screenshot of a Google link search – i.e. the result of typing link:www.apriliafutura.co.uk into Google.
The truth about backlinks and SEO
This method does not display all links pointing to the site but it’s a great way to make people think they have none at all.
In fact only the owner of a website can see how many links point at it, and that’s through the Google Webmaster Tools account. Actually there are 2,593 links pointing at the site.
We pointed this out to one of the companies and they told us they were talking about ‘Google backlinks’, which are different from ordinary backlinks. There is, of course, no such thing.
It’s true that links pointing to your site are important and can help your site do better in searches – but they have to be from the right places. Above all they should be relevant to the subject matter and ideally from a site Google thinks is authoritative.
For years SEO companies have seized on this as a way of pushing sites to the top by posting links on all sorts of sites. For a long time it worked, but Google can now detect dodgy backlinks and downgrades or even black lists sites that use them.
Creating backlinks remains one of the favourite tactics of dodgy SEO companies, and if you use them you may well regret it.
2. Dmoz listing
All three of our reports (two with identical wording) insisted that getting a link from Dmoz was essential as Dmoz is the ‘most authoritative site by far’.
So what’s Dmoz? http://www.dmoz.org, also known as the Open Directory project, was an early attempt to put all of the web on a directory. But while it was important when the web was young, it’s not these days.
The truth about Dmoz and SEO
These days a link from Dmoz isn’t really worth any more than a link from many other sites. Today most sites aren’t listed on it, yet still do fine in searches. But it’s a great way for someone looking to do unnecessary SEO work to find fault with your site.
As Google engineer Matt Cutts puts it: “It used to be the case that people would have a check list of the links they really wanted to get. And it’s not that there’s something special or different about the Open Directory Project. It’s a very well known directory, but it’s not a requirement. It’s not the sort of thing where you have to get a link from Dmoz.”
Note: Dmoz was closed in 2017 but we’re leaving it here because this still crops up in dodgy SEO emails.
3. Yahoo Directory/Yellow Pages listing
Two out of three claimed we needed links to our site from both of these online directories. One also mentioned Alexa, another directory site.
The truth about directory listings
All these directories are seen as authoritative but links from them are not essential to do well in searches. Again, it makes unnecessary work for our SEO companies. Getting links from these sites won’t make much difference, if any.
4. Reverse IP
Our site currently shares its IP address with many others sitting on the same server. Two out of three of our SEO companies suggested the site should have its own IP and claimed search engines prefer this.
The truth about shared IP addresses and SEO
In short, this is totally untrue. There are reasons why a dedicated IP is necessary for some site that we won’t go into here, but SEO is not one of them. It has absolutely no effect on search and never has.
This is another great way of creating demand for your services as the vast majority of websites are on shared hosting and therefore share their IP address with upwards of 1,000 other sites.
It’s easy enough to look up and sounds technical enough to fool the average business owner.
Generally all the reports did their best to mark the site down with false statements and subjective judgements – remember this is a website that scores in the top of the first page for hundreds of relevant search terms.
But they still managed to mark it down for quality of page content, a couple of errors in the code, keywords (which Google doesn’t even look at now) and even not having a live chat feature on the homepage of the site!
The interesting part came with the follow up email conversation where we asked one of the firms which search terms they would optimise the site for – something none of them had mentioned.
They came back with a list of terms most people wouldn’t use when looking for the information on the site, missing out on the most obvious ones, possibly because the site is already on page one for them!
How to pick a good SEO company
As we said at the beginning, if you own a website then you will have received emails from these SEO companies.
We know a few people who have fallen for them and ended up paying hundreds of pounds per month for no obvious benefit.
The site we had assessed is in the first page of dozens of Google searches because we followed some basic rules when building it – they are in Google’s SEO guide for everyone to see – and because it’s useful to the people it is aimed at, who helpfully post lots of links to it on social media. And because it’s relevant.
And here’s the key: Follow the basic rules, make your site relevant and useful and have some good links pointing to it and you won’t go far wrong.
There are plenty of good SEO companies to choose from, but most are too busy to send out masses of emails to random website owners.
A good company will ask you straight away which search terms you want your site to do well at, and tell you whether that is realistic. No-one will guarantee you a page 1 listing for any term you choose, especially if there is a lot of competition.
Search Engine Optimisation is a young industry and it seems there are plenty of companies ready to take advantage of changing requirements and confusion over what matters and what doesn’t.
Get your content right and the rest will follow
We mustn’t lose sight of the most important factor in search engine optimisation – content!
Good content trumps many of the factors our SEO companies picked on – and by good we mean relevant to the information searched for.