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Things I Learned at Wordcamp

March 24, 2016 Corporate, Creative, Design, Development 2 Comments

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This past weekend, I – along with 700ish other participants – attended Atlanta’s Wordcamp at Loudermilk Center downtown. Wordcamp is a conference that happens all over the world that focuses on everything WordPress, but it goes beyond that really. The professions attending ran the gamut. Though I am a 9-5 front-end developer and designer, I saw hardcore back-end developers who write custom plugins for the WordPress platform. I saw business owners, large and small, who run their websites on WordPress (even if they don’t directly manage their site). I saw casual users who just use WordPress to run their own personal blogs about gardening, food critiquing, or any number of topics. My point is that I saw people from all walks of life at this convention, and not all of them were experts in the web industry or even in WordPress itself. It was a convention for everyone. The speakers and topics encompassed the same variety. It was glorious, and honestly a little life-changing, and it was only my first time attending. As such, I wanted to take a little time to share some of the things I learned that will directly affect me professionally moving forward.

1.) Don’t knock WordPress

I’ve had my fair share of clients come to me, both at BTG and elsewhere, and say, “Whatever you do, I don’t want a WordPress site” and my immediate response is always, “Why?” Maybe they had a bad experience with WordPress sites in the past, that WordPress won’t be able to cover all the needs they will have in a website, or maybe they feel WordPress sites tend to all look the same. Whatever the reason, there are some facts that are undeniable as far as WordPress goes…

WordPress is used by 59.3% of all the websites who are known to have a CMS (content management system). This is 26.2% of all websites on the internet.

Source: W3Techs

That’s just a hair over 1/4th of the internet; leaps and bounds over any other CMS out there. That says something. I can’t tell you how many people don’t even know it’s a WordPress site they’re looking at when it’s done right. Some examples: Georgia State University, Katy Perry, The New Yorker, Sony Music, Best Buy, AMC’s The Walking Dead, etc… Everything from e-commerce, to legitimate news, to international pop singers, and more can be on WordPress. You can too.

But more than just a lack of solid design haunting folks, a lot of bad experiences with WordPress come from lack of training I’ve found. That’s why we at BTG believe in offering training in all the WordPress tools we hand over. We are happy to make this a custom one-on-one visit with your web content manager, or just point you in the right direction for already written tools like WordPress 101. We are always available for questions from our partners, and that’s just what every client is to us; our partner.

2.) The Web is becoming a place where users want to see and hear your business’ “authentic self”

In no less than 3 panels I attended on the subject of website content and usability, I heard the term “authentic self” mentioned alongside the saying “know, like, and trust.” It all links back to the emphasis websites should have on things like brand identity and consistency in presence both in terms of word and deed. Businesses can get so wrapped up in the need to sound so professional and use all the best buzzwords that they end up being lost in the miasma of businesses just like them. In so many words: their competitors. They’re saying the words they think their users want to hear, and as a result, they all sound the same. Nobody stands out.

To win your target users over, you as a business need to switch gears to being more of your authentic self. This means really paying attention to and pinpointing your branding. What are your core values? What do you do, look like, and say? Do the pictures and words used in your website reflect that in every page? Think about your behavior in professional venues: do you walk the same walk and talk the same talk as what you profess on your website? If you aren’t, consider changing the message you are sending in your website and marketing materials to be closer to the authentic self you are showing as a business owner. Authenticity is a powerful thing. It should be your focus. You don’t like fake people in your social life, why would you want that from a business? Endeavor to be a business your customers can feel they know, like and trust. Don’t be afraid of showing your authentic self. At worst, it will drive away the tire-kickers and difficult customers you didn’t want to work with anyway due to conflicting feelings about who you are. At best, you will soon find you have quality clientele that will last because they can’t get enough of the business you are.

3.) Your website should do three things, and do them well

Business websites (and even personal ones) are really about getting users. Maybe this is a strong readership for a blogger, or perhaps it is getting people to sign up for your services. Either way, a successful website has three things it should do and do well.

It should tell who you are. Use your words. The pen is mightier than the sword after all.
It should show who you are. Few things convey an idea stronger than powerful images and documentation of your work.
It should explain how you do it. Process is important. If yours is easy, you should sing about that. Set expectations.

But more than that, it should do all of these things concisely because…

4.) The internet has next to no attention span

I was aware of this before Wordcamp, but the meaning went deeper this time. Lack of attention span is nearly universal to all users on the web today. If we as users can’t load the bulk of a simple website in under fifteen seconds, what do we do? Honestly, we’re probably going to leave. But it gets finer than that. If a user can’t tell what it is that you do when they first come to your website in five seconds or less, you’re probably going to lose them before you convert them. As one speaker put it, “You never stop dating when you are an internet user.” What she meant by this was that we’re, all of us, looking for that perfect match when we surf the net. This could be a business we want to use, or clothing we want to buy, but we are all ultimately looking for that one thing that is going to satisfy whatever need it is that drove us there to look for it in the first place, and if you don’t tell them in those first five seconds why it is that you might be what they’re looking for, you’re never going to professionally “date.”

This is where the hero banner comes into play. Hero banners are those things you see on 99% of sites. It’s that big, bold image that takes up most of the page just under the very top header of your site on your homepage. It might have some text inside it, maybe a call to action button driving users deeper into your website based on the message they saw there. This hero banner is where you have the most value for getting your message across in those first five seconds. It is just that, your hero. Make it shine, and make it the most meaningful thing users will see, but…

5.) Don’t make your hero a slider

A hero slider is one of those that has multiple hero banner panels that slide around to reveal the next hero slide. They might have arrows on the left and right allowing you to click through to the next or previous slide, or they may just have those little dots at the bottom equal to the number of slides available. Either way, I’m going to endeavor to steer my websites and designs away from this trend, and I’ll tell you why. Think about this…

Consider a website that is not your own. Something you just stumbled on maybe while browsing sites for something you need. How often have you actually paid attention to more than the first slide? How often have you sat there and waited for the slide to change and thought, “I wonder what’s on the next slide?” and you didn’t just scroll down the page or click on the navigation to move to the page or thing you were really interested in? Hardly ever, right? Now think back to those slides that you did take the time to go through and look at. Which one was the strongest and had the information that made you want to keep looking at this site? The first one, right? 9 times out of 10, it should be. Lastly, have you ever had the slide change too quickly and you had to hit the previous arrow because you wanted to finish what you were reading?

Furthermore, if you’ve ever made one of these on your website, or worked with someone to make one, you know that choosing every image on those heroes is an undertaking. Every word needs to be perfectly smithed to say just the thing you wanted it to say. You probably sorted through hundreds of stock images to find just one image you might want to use for it. When the first one is the one you want people to read, why spend all the time and effort to make additional ones? Why ever take the user’s attention from the one hero that says it all about your business? The one that was designed to “hook ’em” and send them to the next leg of their journey through your site. Interrupting that flow isn’t really beneficial, so why do it?

And if that hasn’t sold you on the idea, consider this: my last full-time job before BTG was working with the blind and the deaf to improve accessibility and experiences on screen readers for the web. Sliders (which are really just single-focus carousels of images) are programmed a hundred different ways to Sunday, and rarely are two alike in their base html; the code that a screen reader uses to determine what to interpret to a user. They get all kinds of confused, and the words the screen reader does choose to interpret are often broken and interspersed with strings of numbers and abbreviations. Whereas a single banner image with text positioned on top of it gets read flawlessly. What would you rather have if those were your choices?

Conclusion

Overall, I learned a lot from all the speakers, and even from my fellow attendees. Surprisingly, the subjects I expected to get the least from ended up being the ones I was most altered by. The atmosphere was incredibly open and inviting to questions for the beginner as well as the experienced, and I will be attending again next year in Atlanta as well as possibly some in other cities near me. I encourage anyone with an interest in this platform to go to Wordcamp Central and see if there’s an event happening near you any time soon, and to go if there is! It will change your perspective.



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About the Author

Caitlin Holden

Caitlin Holden

I am a front-end web developer who specializes in usability and accessibility. I've been in the web industry since 2007. My specialties include Wordpress, Photoshop, power tools, and board gaming.


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