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.