What We Learned at WordCamp Chicago

What We Learned at WordCamp Chicago

Over the weekend, Kicks Digital Marketing attended WordCamp Chicago 2017. Among our industry peers, we learned more about the latest topics within web design, web development, content strategy, social media, and SEO. For those of you who might not be familiar, WordCamp is a locally organized conference that covers a variety of topics as they relate to the WordPress platform. Hint: Kicks Digital Marketing is a major advocate for WordPress, the WordPress community and the WordCamps that happen all over (not just in Chicago.)

Why WordPress?

Apart from it being the largest content management platform, it’s flexible, robust and secure. It has long evolved since its origin as a “blogging only platform”. We know that when we recommend that our clients make the move to WordPress that they are moving in the right direction. While Kicks works with many, small to mid-size businesses, WordPress has noticed a huge trend in Fortune 500 companies making the transition. As smaller business owners, with less access to capital; both human and financial- I urge them not to try and reinvent the wheel. If someone is doing something that’s working; follow, THEN iterate and improve. Save yourself the hassle of extensive R&D by going mainstream. After all, big brands like Walt Disney, Sony, FedEx and The New York Times are all powered by WordPress. Ahem! They know what they’re doing.

Why WordCamp Chicago?

Yes, we’re an Indianapolis-based web design company, so why go all the way to Chicago for continuing education? Indianapolis has a thriving tech industry, but we don’t yet have a WordCamp all our own. Kicks Digital would love to play a part in bringing this event to our awesome city. Until then, we’re forced to drive north to the windy city.

As a company, it’s challenging to decide how and where you spend your dollars and time on continuing education. Commonly, we have a team member find a conference or event that seems especially appealing to them, but not necessarily applicable to the rest of the group. Team bonding and group education are important for the viability of a thriving culture.

In theory, WordCamp has it all. Including, sessions on a variety of topics as they relate to WordPress that appeal to all user types; beginner, intermediate and advanced. Having something valuable and unifying for each team member is rare, especially at an affordable rate. It’s impressive that this community is able to pull it off. As I mentioned, each event is volunteer driven. No event goes off without room for improvement, but I continue to be impressed with the forethought and the participation that goes into coordinating these heavy lifts. Thank you, Chicago-Kent College of Law for being our host in 2017!

Our Most Valued WordCamp Lessons

Security

(Gasp) Yes, sites should be secure. If your site is exchanging sensitive information of any kind, it should already be secure. Think: SSL certificates. If you’re new to the web world, you may not be familiar. SSL certificates are small data files that when they’re installed on a web server, it acts like a padlock and secures the connection between web server to browser. So, if you’re collecting sensitive information- you should have already had this in play. However, many sites don’t. Plot twist! Google cares. Google search wants to reward the sites the are best constructed and provide the best user experience and information to their users.

Google isn’t out to get you, but they will always be keeping us on our toes. If you look at the left side of your browser window there may be a green padlock that says, “secure” or there may be a red unlocked padlock that says, “not secure” or something to that effect. This has the potential to create some serious mistrust between you and your users. Additionally, you may be penalized in search. If you haven’t already, talk to your web partners about security and the steps that you need to be taking to become secure.

Web Accessibility + WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

What is a web accessibility? At its most basic definition, it’s how you make a site usable for as many people as possible. In other words, you want to create a site that allows all users equal availability to information and functionality. Anybody can be impacted by inaccessible websites. Still, an accessibility study performed by Oregon State reported that there are almost 55 million individuals in the U.S. with disabilities, which equates to about 20% of our total population. This is not a small number. With an increase in education, employment, healthcare, purchasing of goods and other services all revolving around the web, it’s more important than ever that sites are built to be inclusive.

While there are tools and resources available to help makes sites more inclusive, nothing really competes with human judgement. How we develop content, text and image alternatives all make a difference. WCAG helps breakdown ways in which we as web designers, web developers and content writers can be more mindful. Also, the government has become more involved on this issue and we can expect to see some serious mandates for those groups who receive government benefit. Think: schools, not for profits and others who have tax incentives.

Balancing Content

We often hear from prospects, “just tell me how to be found in search.” Yes! You do need to be found. People can’t buy what you’re selling if they don’t know about your or how to find you. While many things go into SEO, content reigns supreme. Here’s the kicker. It’s no short sprint. Content is an absolute grueling marathon and it’s become more challenging than ever.
Think about the job of a search engine like Google. It’s primary role is to connect its user with the most relevant response. If you click away quickly you’re indicating that wasn’t the result that you needed; thus, the search engine says, “Whoopsie! I must do better.” Above all else, what you’re saying, how you’re saying it and who you’re intending to say it to is critical. Even after you’ve defined those parameters, content is tricky. Make sure that your content strategy is blended. You’ll need to have a mix of long posts, exceeding 1500 words and shorter posts that are more shareable for SMO (social media optimization).

Website Conversion

Buzzword alert! Inbound Marketing. It’s this idea that if we build a better mousetrap that more qualified leads may come waltzing through our digital doors. Sounds simple enough, but it’s anything but. You must first have web traffic, funnel and then nurture your web traffic appropriately before you stand a chance at succeeding at “inbound marketing”. Speaker and strategist, Andy Crestodina talked through how we as web designers can create a stronger onsite conversion map. Think about it this way, as a user has a question, you’ll want to provide an answer, evidence of that answer, then finally an ability for the user to take action. You see as humans, most of us make decisions in this order:

Heart : We might feel emotionally compelled or drawn to an idea or thing. (Hello, Pathos!)
Head : We then think through the implication of that idea or thing. (Hello, Logos!)
Cred : We finally want to know that this idea or thing is trustworthy. (Hello, Ethos!)

The largest takeaway here is that web design and site architecture shouldn’t be done lazily. For example, testimonials are powerful things, but they aren’t powerful if they aren’t seen. Testimonial pages aren’t rarely viewed. They are more useful and viewed if they are placed on page that makes a claim about a product or service that someone else might be considering, then that testimonial might be better served.

Lifespan

We’ve been assuming that the lifespan of a website lasts most businesses about 3 years. At WordCamp, we learned that the more recent research is leaning more toward a 2-year 7-month cycle from the launch of a site to the decision to redesign. At Kicks Digital, we’ve made a commitment to our clients that we’ll be on the front end of that design trend, by partnering with our clients for a total site redesign every 2 years after their launch date. The largest takeaway here is that sites aren’t intended to be stapled unmoving things. They’ll be a consistent evolution.

Our Favorite WordCamp Speakers were (in no particular order):

Tracy Apps “You Are Not Your Audience: How To Create User-Centered Design.”
Ryan Erwin “SEO for Business and Bloggers”
Zach Stepek “So, You Want To Sell Online?”
Andy Crestodina, “Better Mousetraps: A Content-Driven Approach to Conversion Optimization”

If Indianapolis had a WordPress WordCamp…

Chicago did a fantastic job! Even on a rainy weekend, attendance was strong. Participants were engaged both onsite and online. The speaker content was solid. I was most impressed with their opening remarks including a welcome and a reminder to all attendees to be all-inclusive and respectful to all. Sponsorship allowed for onsite coffee, refreshments, lunch and an after party. It’s always a fine balance to schedule time for content and connectivity. Chicago hosts did a wonderful job accounting for both.

If an Indianapolis WordCamp is in the works, please reach out to our team! We’d love to volunteer, help coordinate, drive content and support the event in any way that we can. As recent attendees, here are some things that we’d like to recommend:

Registration is all about speed + quick communication to navigate attendees to opening remarks.
Nametags can be used to their fullest potential with the front has your name and the back has a printed schedule or map.
You can never have enough signage. It’s expensive, yes. So, make sure that you can use it year after year.
It’s important to choose accessible spaces for all types of people with all types of needs.
Sessions times should be themed. For example, a 9-10 AM slot should cover U/X, but create content so that all attendees can be engaged at their ability level.
Take a page from Chicago’s book and create enough time for social engagement while at the conference.

In a nutshell, WordCamp Chicago 2017 was an excellent experience for our Kicks Digital Marketing team. As web professionals, we’re grateful to the WordPress platform, its community, and its continued progress. If we met you at WordCamp, please feel free to reach back out. We hope to see you Camping sometime soon!

Brooke Heffernan
Brooke Heffernan
Partnership Director
May 3rd, 2017 • Updates

Interested in learning more?