A Few Thoughts on WordCamp Chicago 2011

August 9, 2011

Two weekends ago, I had the good fortune to attend my second WordCamp Chicago event. While last year I felt like a WordPress newbie, this year I attended the event from a more experienced perspective. Many sessions felt like they were geared for the novice WordPress user or someone very new to blogging, but I feel like I still learned a great deal.

That said, I wanted to share a few conclusions I reached from attending the event. Please note that I attended discussions in the “user track” and not the “developer track.” I’m not a developer and felt that the sessions in the developer track might be a little too technical for my tastes.

1. SEO is the ultimate mystery

If the X-Files were still on television, there’s no doubt they would devote an episode or two about SEO. If Sherlock Holmes were still solving mysteries, there’s no doubt the world famous detective, with magnifying glass and MacBook Pro in hand, would not know how to answer questions about SEO. Sitting through the sessions, I realized that figuring out SEO feels like one big conspiracy theory. I also imagined the folks at Google having one big laugh.

In the “unconference” SEO session, I felt more confusion as numerous attendees chimed in their theories about what helps in Google’s search rankings. Are fewer keywords per post more effective? What about the meta description? I left the session with more questions than answers.

Perhaps the best answer given to a question about SEO was given by speaker Nicole Yeary, who recommended we check Google’s SEO Guidelines at the Google Webmaster Tools site. Maybe it wasn’t the magic answer that everyone wanted to hear. But it made a lot of sense.

2. Use a premium blog theme

Back when I switched my blog from Blogger to WordPress, I searched forever for a free theme I wanted to use. I couldn’t make a choice. Without someone to design the look and feel of my blog, I felt a premium theme would give me greater control. I knew my tastes can be a little fickle when it comes to site design and having a premium theme meant that I would probably not have to bother a designer every other day.

But the real reason I think a premium theme is a good choice is that it’s usually updated more frequently. This means less opportunity for the site to get wonky and a site that is likely to be more secure. We heard this at several sessions. And then, of course, there’s one of my favorite sayings – you get what you pay for.

The only reason not to go with a premium theme, I feel, would be for someone just starting out and getting the feel for WordPress. But, if you’re a blogger with the idea of growing a couple years down the line, it might make sense to get a premium theme early.

3. It’s all about content

My favorite presentation of the weekend was delivered by David Murray from re:group in Ann Arbor, MI. I found Murray to be a smart, funny, high energy speaker…and he explored something near and dear to me…content.

Sure SEO and good design will attract people to your site, but it’s the content that will bring them back again and again. It’s also one of my biggest challenges as a blogger.

His discussion about building our content bubble offered plenty of tips on how we can improve our site’s content and reminded me of a mind-mapping exercise. It was an exercise designed to help us get to the core of our blog/website and offered some great suggestions on how to include topics that related to this core subject.

4. We feel like we don’t know enough

As I listened to questions and talked to fellow attendees, I got the sense that most of us feel like we don’t know enough…about SEO, HTML/CSS, social media or whatever. With new products and services being introduced everyday, I sense that many people are scrambling to really keep up with the changes and information. In many ways, we feel like we need to know and do it all. If you’ve been feeling this way, you’re not alone. One piece of advice that I heard (I’m sorry I cannot remember who said this) was that it would probably be best to focus on the 2 or 3 things that are most important to our business.

Most unusual sight seen at the conference: it happened in the bathroom, where I witnessed a gentleman texting while “taking care of business” at the urinal. There are times I feel, in general, that we’re sometimes a little too attached to our gadgets and obsessed with being connected at all times. This was a prime example of that obsession.

Favorite sessions: Besides David Murray’s presentation, I enjoyed Josh Feck’s “Slow Cooked WordPress” presentation, where he compared blogs and web sites to food…and recommended that we set up our blogs and WordPress sites just like we’d prepare a good meal: with great ingredients, skill and care. I also enjoyed Jim Raffel and Shelby Sapusek’s “He Said/She Said” session which is based on their Thursday evening Twitter chats (use #shehechat starting at 8 p.m. Central on Thursday evenings). I found their discussion informative and humorous as they answered questions about SEO, plug-ins, affiliate marketing and all things social media.

So there you have it. I know I’ve left a lot out, but I wanted to touch on a few key realizations while attending WordCamp 2011 Chicago. For more information on the speakers and some slide presentations, visit the WordCamp Chicago web site. I also hear that many of the presentations from the event will be uploaded to WordPress.tv in the next few days and weeks.

How about you…did you attend the WordCamp Chicago event? If so, what did you think? If not, have you reached any conclusions about WordPress, SEO and social media recently? Please share…I’d love to hear what you think.

Photos courtesy of Kurt Scholle.

1 Kurt Scholle August 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Tim, This is a nice summation of some key takeaways from Word Camp. I like to attend conferences to learn and make new friends, but for those who can’t make an event, and I’d like to go to more than I do, notes and summations like these are really helpful. It’s also nice to see things from a different perspective.

My Word Camp posts are at http://www.website-roi-guy.com and there are others out there if you Google for them. Following the hashtag for an event is a great learning tool too. And the cream rises to the top with what tweets get re-tweeted most.

2 Tim August 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

Hi Kurt:

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts here and thanks, again, for the use of your photos. As I think I told you in my email to you, I could swear you snapped a picture of me while I was yawning near the end of Sunday’s session….I’m just thankful, I didn’t see that less-than-flattering moment of myself 😉

I would agree with what you said about attending conferences…one thing I failed to mention about WordCamp was its affordability. Many tech conferences range in the several hundred dollar range (on the low side). I realize these costs are a worthwhile investment, but I cannot swing a trip to SxSW or BlogWorld in New York at this time. So a locally produced event like this is great for a lot of people who still want to learn and meet good people without breaking the bank. Thank you for sharing the link to your posts, I will stop by and I hope to run into you again at a future event.

3 ParkRidgeDDS August 16, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Tim, This was a great post that addressed the highlights from a user (like me ) perspective. It seemed that the general consensus was that there are no succinct answers and that we are all in this together figuring the whole SEO, SM, analytics thing out. A couple of things…one is that Nicole Yeary has started a GREAT group on Facebook for women in tech called #MsTech and I am so lucky to “know” these brilliant, savvy and generous women. I have learned SO much from the conversations that take place on this forum. Also, Heather Acton was one of the organizers of WordCamp Chicago and a wonderful friend. She has is the awesomeness behind my WP sites (I currently oversee 4 sites) and she is patient, kind and a WP genius. Both Nicole and Heather are really good people to know in the world of WP, SEO, analytics and SM. Thanks for a great post!!

4 Tim August 17, 2011 at 6:49 am

Hi Claudia:

Thanks for stopping by and sharing the information about Nicole and Heather. You remind me how important it is to get to know people in real life as opposed to just virtually. It seems as though you’ve gained some great insights from them…I really think your web site dedicated to your dental practice is amazingly good. You do a great job providing great content (your post about how dental and chiropractic are linked is of great interest) and engaging with your readers. I have a feeling I’ll be back to your web site and I’ll look up Nicole and Heather for their SEO and SM tips.

Comments on this entry are closed.