Notes from Day One of WordCamp Ireland

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Here are my notes from the various sessions that I attended on day one at the recent (excellent) WordCamp Ireland event, which was held at Langtons in Kilkenny.

Session 1: Building Online Communities

Leo Ibanez and Loughlin O’Nolan@CommunityStorm

Leo and Loughlin had the unenvious job of being first up on Saturday morning. I had high hopes for this talk. I was hoping to come away with a bunch of specific actions that I could take to help to build and grow an online community using WordPress and other online tools. Unfortunately, I found the presentation was a little unfocused and lacked a clear message. The first half (or more) of the talk was given over to a protracted history of online communities, back to email and Usenet in the late ’60s and early ’70s – unnecessary and irrelevant.

The meat of the presentation revolved around using facebook, Twitter, YouTube, commenting on forums and your blog to develop reputation and a community. The presentation could have greatly benefited from real, practical examples of what steps to take, and what a developer/site owner can expect to achieve.

One interesting takeaway from this presentation was the observation that comments on blogs peaked around 2007, and that since then the conversation has moved elsewhere. That is, rather than leave a comment on your blog your visitors are more likely to post a link and a comment on Twitter or facebook. Because the conversation has moved elsewhere, you have to too.

Session 2: WordPress MU

John Handelaar@handelaar

Next, I switched from the blogger’s track to the tech track, to catch John Handelaar’s presentation on WordPressMU. John’s angle was that of a sys admin who had to manage 25 different high-traffic WordPress sites. At present, each of these has their own unique WordPress instance, but he plans to migrate all over to WPMU – in particular as WPMU is going to be merged into the main WordPress codebase for WordPress 3.0

Best takeaway from John’s presentation is his quote that

If you’re a sys admin, WordPressMU is the shit.

A couple of gotchas: (i) if you’re moving multiple existing sites into WordPressMU you need Domain Mapping plugin, which can be difficult to get to work, and (ii) you’re more restricted in terms of deploying blog-specific themes and plugins.

Keynote 1

Jane Wells of Automattic@janeforshort

Time for the first keynote – Jane Wells from Automattic. Jane introduced herself as a member of the core WordPress team. Most of her talk was focused on new features coming in WordPress 3.0 – due on May 1.

Echoing the point that John made in the previous session, she said that the main feature was the integration of WPMU and WP into a single codebase.

Jane next gave us a sneak preview of the new default theme for WP3.0, called TwentyTen, which looks amazing as a default theme. The WP core team plan to release a new default theme every year, with TwentyEleven (get it?) coming in 2011.

The other features that Jane spoke about centred around providing move CMS functionality into WordPress. One particularly cool feature is the new menu system that will allow you to drag and drop pages to reorder or to create hierarchies – very nice. This feature is based on Woo Custom Navigation that was contributed and integrated into the core.

Jane summarised the CMS features as:

Custom post types + taxonomies = CMS for WordPress 3.0

Session 3 – 40 Tips in 40 Minutes

Joost de Valk@yoast

I was unfamiliar with @yoast before this presentation, but quickly learned that he’s quite the celeb in the WordPress community. Without a doubt, this talk wins the highest signal-to-noise ratio prize. Rather than even trying to summarise this talk, I’m going to summarise it using bullet points and links.

  1. – cool way to handle bookmarklets
  2. Speed and usability on blogs – many have nice content but poor usability.
  3. W3 Total Cache even more awesome than WPSuperCache – combine CSS & Javascript in one.
  4. Use sprites on the blog. PunyPNG probably the best tool to smush the images. – automatically smush images.
  5. Offload all static files on site to another server – separate from server generating WP.
  6. If using JQuery, then use Google servers.
  7. Kill most plugins – many kill performance. Most only work for the particular developer that developed it. If you make fixes, create the patch and resubmit them to the developer.
  8. Clean up the sidebar. No problem using widgets – doesn’t impact performance.
  9. Books are judged by their cover. In google – post title and description. Shouldn’t auto generate meta description. Either write a good one, or leave it out entirely.
  10. Use a good related posts plugin. People will keep on reading if you can point them to other related content Efficient Related Posts by Aaron Campbell.
  11. Internal linking & series of posts. Use custom taxonomies. Justin Tadlock has awesome plugin for series of posts – Series.
  12. Choose a few tags, categories & custom taxonomies, but don’t go overboard.
  13. Give a robot some directions. Don’t let google index your registration page. Don’t need them in the search index.
  14. Create proper pagination. Google (and readers) won’t index all pages without proper pagination. WP-PageNavi plugin.
  15. Disable comment on pages – on by default. Poor for analytics and search indexing. If you want to allow comments on a topic covered in a page, create a related post, pointing to the page, and allow comments on the post.
  16. Backup your blog regularly. Not just database but files also.
  17. Automatically repair the DB: wp-config.php: def('WP_ALLOW_REPAIR', true);
  18. Check your blog queries: debug queries plugin. How many MySQL queries to render the page? This is where many plugins fall down.
  19. Clean up spam. Always. Looks poor to users and to google. Good way to lose rankings. Use Akismet plugin to check backlinks.
  20. Track your uptime in hosting. You should be the first to find out if your blog is down. Use a service that can ping you if you blog is down.
  21. If you want to rank well in Ireland, it’s very important to be hosted in Ireland. Difficult for google to determine where you’re coming from if it’s not an Irish ISP.
  22. Track and fix those 404s. Redirection plugin. Or Headspace2.
  23. @yoast has about 50 plugins on his blog. As long as they’re well behaved, they should not be a performance hog.
  24. Remove unneeded meta info. Also remove WP version number. Helps to slow down security penetrations.
  25. Create a good search experience. Search is one of the worst parts of the WP at present. Implement google custom search. Track what people are searching for. Good ideas for new posts.
  26. Get a good mobile plugin. There are a few good ones out there (e.g. WP Mobile Edition).
  27. Make them Come Back: email, twitter & RSS. email gets you the most visits. Twitter is an incredibly powerful source of click-throughs. ~8k hits from a single tweet in 1 hour.
  28. Don’t overestimate the power of RSS. Most readers won’t know what it is. If your users know what it is (e.g. a very tech-savvy community), you can’t make the link big enough. Otherwise, you can’t make it small enough!
  29. Use WP Greet Box. Show related posts as a result of a search query.
  30. Newsletter signup page. Give a link to help people retweet the signup.
  31. Comment redirect. Redirects people when they leave a comment for the first time.
  32. Ask for feedback & comments. Contact form. Visitor surveys.
  33. Use gravatars. Become known.
  34. Use IntenseDebate or Disqus, rather than the vanilla comment system.
  35. Use Google Analytics. Yahoo Web Analytics is better, but you probably can’t get it. Some paid options that are nice but reasonable.
  36. Key things to track: pageviews per visit; new unique commenter – (may have to modify the theme – onclick handler); comments;
  37. Set these as goals and assign a monitory value.
  38. Email + feedburner subscriptions. Feedburner means more regular visitors. Google analytics campaign variables. FeedBurner can be quite slow.

Yoast wrapped up a great session with the call to arms:

Start optimising! Do it!

Phew! I’m amazed that my typing and note taking managed to keep up with all of that. I reckon that it’ll take me months to implement all of that stuff. I wonder what two I missed?

Session 4: WordPress Theme Frameworks

Eddie Johnson – Web design/developer wth @eddiej

Eddie had an almost impossible task to follow Yoast, but he gave it a real go. Eddie was talking about WordPress Frameworks, and in particular Thematic – the most popular and powerful framework out there.

A framework is a blank, minimalist theme, designed for customising and extending. Sandbox was the first widely available one. Sandbox stopped development in Jan 2010, and Thematic is the natural successor.

The takeaway message here is that Thematic is a great starting point for any theme developer, and can cut down on the amount of new code that you have to develop to create a great, unique looking theme.

Session 5: WP Super Cache

Donncha O’Caoimh@donncha

Donncha had a brief presentation on WP Super Cache, his own cache for WordPress. The key point of WP Super Cache (or indeed any other caching plugin) is that it generates static HTML, which can be served by the webserver without having to launch PHP or WordPress.

Much of the talk was devoted to giving a detailed account of how WP Super Cache works, how it hooks into WordPress, and how it can be customised and extended. As a non-WP plugin developer, much of the detail went over my head, but the takeaway message was clear – use WP Super Cache – it will make your site run faster.

Keynote 2 – Google – Handy tips for WordPress Users

Luisella Mazza and Elena Kovakina – of the search quality team.

Last up after a hectic day were Luisella and Elena from Google, talking about how you can make changes to your WordPress site to optimise for google indexing or ranking. Here are the key messages:

  • Use categories that are also good keywords
  • Use keywords in the URL path:
    • dashes best
    • then underscores
    • spaces are worst
    • Use good image names and alt tags.
  • Canonicalisation – avoid duplicate content, or same content on multiple URLs
  • Avoid duplicates due to categorisation.
  • Use rel="canonical" into <head> section. WP 2.9 does this already.
  • Give your images ALT tags. Use sensible names for image files, along with descriptive text.
  • Hacking attempts:
    • Spam landing pages under the wp-admin or wp-includes.
    • Spammers hack pages on the site to point at spammy content.
  • Best practices for security:
    • Protect wp-admin
    • Add .htaccess to increase security
    • Restrict access by IP address
    • Can request a review in google webmaster once you have cleaned out your malware.
    • Keep track of your evergreen content to see if it’s the source of malware or spam.

This wasn’t the best session, unfortunately. Much of the presentation appeared to have been taken from a presentation given by Matt Cutts at previous WordCamp events.

The Q&A session descended into a “why did google lower my sites’s rank” and “why can’t google get back to me by email”, which neither of the presenters were there to talk about.

This minor niggle notwithstanding, this was a great day, with some excellent presentations, and plenty of lively debate. To top it all off, we had a fantastic dinner with @donncha and his family and @pgibbs who was there with his Dad at our table (plus assorted kids).

Tune in next time for details on day two.

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