We <3 WordCamp

20110917-112812.jpgWordCamp PDX is our favorite conference of the year, and we’re delighted to be attending this year. WordPress developers, designers, and bloggers convene to share information and learn new tricks. Also, there is usually Whiffies.

This year we left the laptop at home – and while we were not the only iPad users there by a long shot, we still got asked about it a LOT. The answer? Using the iPad at a conference is GREAT. It’s light, portable, wifi-enabled and easy to take out and put away (especially using our fabulous iPad clutch). The only thing that could have made it into a must-have conference tool is if we could take photos with it, instead of having to switch back & forth between the iPad and the iPhone. Note to self: get an iPad 2!

Here’s a breakdown of some of the sessions:

Evan Solomon from Automattic talked about figuring out what your users really want. A/B testing is a huge benefit. Question assumptions. Test liberally, he says, and don’t be afraid to test out crazy ideas to discover new ways of doing things. Even if your tests don’t show what you’re expecting, if you learn something, it’s a success. He gives a great example of the WordPress.com main page sidebar; they assumed they needed to tweak the information below the sign-up button (wording, graphics, etc) – but when they tested a version with nothing at all below the sign-up button, conversion rates increased by 25%. He recommends using something like Optimizely or his yet-unreleased WordPress plugin that will let you do A/B testing from the Dashboard. See the slides from his talk here.

Andrew Nacin (core developer of WordPress) dove right into wp_query. This talk was way over my head, but it was crazy interesting to learn about how WordPress queries data and how to filter results to limit query variables. I won’t do it justice, but here are my notes from the session: Every wp_query has methods that mimic the global conditional tags. The global conditional tags apply to wp_query, the main or current query. Conditional tags only work after the data has been parsed; you can use it during get_posts. Make sure you restore to the main query by using wp_reset_query. Most of these functions have been around since 1.5 or 2.0. Core queries are all filterable, which is useful because the API will not always do what you want. His slides are all here.

Next up was a session on SEO by Ira Pasternak, Milen Cole, and Sarah Tetreault. They reminded us that SEO is an ongoing process; you can’t just set it up at the beginning and then forget about it. When checking your search engine ranking, be aware of Google personalized results; when you’re logged in to any Google account, your search results will be different from other people’s, since Google uses your browsing history, bookmarks, friends’ recommendations, etc. to tailor your search experience. Try logging out of your Google account to see if your business’ search results are the same.

They also talked a bit about search engine algorithms and how a site ends up at the top of search results. Relevance, of course, is key. Relevance is about content but also authority; traditionally this was measured by how many sites link to you and also how highly ranked those linking sites are. If you have a local business, citations are also important. The number of times that people mention your website along with your phone number or address (even if your URL is not used) raises your authority, which raises your rank. Link building is contextual; you’ll want links from sites related to your industry. Compare to your competitors to find out who is linking to their sites. Use a tool lie SEOmoz to find that out.

They closed with a reminder: SEO is not passive. You need to actively pursue links in the form of articles, blog posts, newspaper articles, local listings and directories.

Aaron Hockley, WCPDX organizer extraordinaire, talked about the future of personal blogging. Personal blogs are no longer necessarily focused on a single topic; a photographer’s blog, for example, might include posts about coffee and bicycling in addition to posts about photography. Aaron has consolidated his blogging to is personal site and his business site rather than dividing his energy between 4 or 5 different single-topic sites. This turned out to be a common trend for many other attendees: to have a single site that functions as a hub for their online identity. People are starting to follow people as opposed to topics. If you want to filter your feeds, you can organize by topic, etc – but is this necessary? Do people want to subscribe to targeted feeds, or do they want to read everything by the author? (We’ve found the latter to be true in our own experience.)

Feel like you missed out? Come to WordCamp PDX next year (or find a WordCamp in your area). The range of topics is hugely diverse & there’s always something new to learn. Keep your eye out for videos of these and all the other WCPDX sessions to hit WordPress.tv sometime soon.

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