Some of the reasons why WordPress is a great choice for your small business website
In Episode 15 I chat to Karyn Lanthois from Massive Empire Design about the WordPress.org platform and why it is a great choice for small business websites. Karyn is an Adelaide based WordPress developer and has some great insights about the platform as well as tips and plugin recommendations.
Covered in this episode;
- What is WordPress and what are the different aspects (ie. themes, plugins, pages, posts etc.)
- What makes WordPress a good choice for small business websites?
- Does WP have any shortcomings?
- How does WP compare to other website solutions?
- Karyn’s Business: Massive Empire Design
- Adelaide WordPress Facebook Group
- WordPress.com – Hosted by someone else
- WordPress.org – Self hosted (this is the recommended option)
- Free WP Theme Library
- Free WP Plugin Directory
- WP Manage Plugin
- Jetpack Plugin (needs a wordpress.com account)
- Nrelate Plugin
- Connections Directory Plugin (example implementation at Chinatownadelaide.com)
- WP Touch Plugin
- All in our event calender Plugin
- SEO Plugins: All in One SEO & WordPress SEO (I prefer WordPress SEO which is maintained by Yoast)
Nick: Welcome back to the Web Marketing Adelaide Podcast. This week, we’ve got a special guest. We have Karyn Lanthois from Massive Empire Design. How are you doing Karyn?
Karyn: Great. Thanks for having me Nick.
Nick: This week, we’re talking about WordPress. Karyn is a WordPress developer and WordPress system for designing or developing websites. So let’s just get started by having you tell us a little bit about yourself Karyn, and about your business.
Karyn: Massive Empire Design is, because I love freelancing, I’ve actually been involved in digital technology for about 14 years. I’ve been building websites since about ’99, badly I admit to begin with and had a company for a while there. We made mobile games and also made a bunch of digital contents, some of which is still online, ABC for instance but in the last 3 years, I’ve been focusing on my passion for small business and WordPress.
Nick: Great, and your clients mostly consist of small business owners?
Karyn: Yes, small business owners and community groups is where I seem to have most of my clients at the moment.
Nick: Great. So let’s get into the topic by how about you tell us a little bit about what WordPress actually is and what are the aspects that make up the system.
Karyn: Sure, sure. From a very beginner’s perspective, WordPress is open source plug-in tool and a content management system. It’s built on PHP and MYSQL without going into it too much. PHP is a general collective scripting language and it’s performed on the server, which is what makes it so great, because it makes everything quick and also the database and the MYSQL, just go ahead and Google it if you want to know more about that.
So, the most popular and the largest self-quested blogging system in the world. It did start as a blogging system but it’s definitely evolved over time to be a pretty capable full content management system. It’s not just for bloggers these days. Three industry heavy-weights use it, for instance, Boingboing, I can Haz Cheeseburger, CNN, New York Times, Tech Crunch, eBay, so you can see it’s pretty powerful stuff.
One thing I would like to point out is that there is quite a difference in the functionality between the WordPress.com version or the self-hosted version, and I would recommend to take the jump and to go straight into self-hosted every time just because of the control and additional functionality. So, diving right into what WordPress is made from, I guess that the very heart of it is the theme. So a theme are a set of files, which determine your basic carrier and functionality of your site. So, the WordPress software stays the same all the time and can and should be updated regularly, however, your theme is always interchangeable. So, if you decide you’d like a different look, you can just choose a new theme and not lose all the content that’s there on your site. So, you can use a theme for free and this is often the best way out for a first-time user, however, once you get your feet wet, it does pay to have a look at some premium things, simply because the person that has coded that theme often spends a lot of time on a dashboard, which will be available in your administration dashboard of WordPress.
It just makes it so much easier to customize things such as your header, your background colors, your fonts, the way you integrate your social media. It generally comes with some really nice image sliders which you can see are big features of landing pages these days. So, definitely recommend to have a look at some premium things. It’s pretty easy to find really good reviews online just by asking Google.
Of course, what makes WordPress amazing are the plugins. Plugins are built by thousands of different developers worldwide and they’re pretty much all available to look up on the WordPress website. It’s very easy to find reviews of what’s good and bad about various plugins and they do absolutely everything, just let your imagination run wild. So things like image galleries, forms, business directories, ways of backing up, integrating your social media, to fully-fledged e-commerce shops.
I’ll probably talk a little bit about later about plug-in that I love. And then, as far as the way your content is written, there’s two things, pages versus posts. So we use a page, when you’ve got very static information, things like your “About” page or your contact page. Pretty much everything else should be a post. You can tag and categorize your posts, but you can’t do that with pages. So, a page just kind of sits there, whereas a post can be manipulated, ordered, misted, categorized, you name it, it can happen to a post but not a page. Yes, so that would be a good starting off point there Nick.
Nick: Yeah, a great starting off point. Let me just make a few notes on what you were saying. Just to make it clear to my listeners, when you say open source, what does that mean exactly?
Nick: Okay, so open source is free.
Karyn: Yeah. You don’t pay for WordPress, all you pay for is the hosting which is pretty cheap to come by and a large array of the themes and the plug-in are free. The WordPress software itself is free and obviously, everyone collaborates on the software and discuss things. There’s no privacy, there’s no corporate secrets.
Nick: Yeah, that’s sounds one of the most powerful things of the whole system and the community around it is that, there’s a lot of sharing going on, a lot of free themes and plugins like you mentioned and the software itself is free. So, it’s a very cheap way to get into a website or a cheaper way to get a website started than a different system.
Good. And so, that kind of plays into my next question, which is, what makes WordPress such a good choice for a small business website?
Karyn: Sure. I think I would have to say, number one is ease of use. It is my preferred platform and once you’re used to the layout, it stays the same all the time. It’s, with every upgrade of WordPress, they do tiny tweaks to the dashboard but it’s essentially the same, and once you get the hang of it, it’s a lot like using Word. So the bulk of your time, and especially when you’ve had someone else develop the website for you and you’re just simply taking care of the maintaining of the site, the bulk of your time spent writing in a note pad-like window, it auto saves all the time and it’s pretty easy to roll back to an earlier version of your page or post. It’s not too difficult. It’s very easy to insert images and of course you need to learn 1 or 2 things about using images on the internet and not upload 1 gigabyte files, but that’s just a small learning curve. So once you‘ve gone past that, you can take charge of your own website. You don’t need to call your developer all the time.
And the one thing I will point out though, a word of caution based on many years of experience, is writing regular updates to your website is possibly one of the hardest tasks for a business owner and I’ve found, quite often, it’s quite difficult to just extract the copy to the “About“ page. This is really normal behavior, don’t freak out, always just sit down and do small amounts of writing.
Nick: Yeah, yeah. I can definitely attest to the difficulty of getting some content onto your website, even when you sort of have a, you seem to have the motivation and your mind, once you sit down in front of the keyboard, this doesn’t sort of come out.
Karyn: Yeah. It’s very hard to talk about yourself in your own business so, even if you could find someone that you trust, a colleague or a business mentor, even a friend to sit down and tell you what they think your business is, I find that’s a useful tool.
Nick: Great. And I also say that I use WordPress for all of my websites and I use it for the website for the podcast, which is webmarketingadelaide.com.au and I definitely can say, agree that’s it’s very easy to use and I’ve just been helping a client just today with their website which is on Joomla and comparatively Joomla is much, much more difficult to use, from my perspective.
Karyn: I think I agree with you Nick. I think it’s a steeper learning curve to get into Joomla and it can be a little bit confronting, for someone who’s not used the content management system before whereas, WordPress it’s just sweet to look at and easy.
Nick: Yep. Very easy. So, now let’s look at the dark side and say, what are the short comings of WordPress?
Karyn: As much as it pains me to speak badly of my beloved WordPress, it does have a couple of short comings. I for one, I’m not a huge fan of the media library, because I’m not the organization photo freak, and it generally just lists your media by the date that you uploaded it, with most recent showing first. However, you can search pretty easily and if you are to end up managing a large image library there are some really good plugins, which allows you to tag your images as categories and re-claim your OCD like control. Secondly is security. I have had many heated discussions with coders and sever buffers and they swear to me that WordPress is less secure that Joomla and Drupal. However, in the past 3 years, I have been hacked once with adware and it was totally my own fault and there’s just some simple measures you need to take notice of.
Things like renaming your default username, which is admin to something else, anything else, and generally not the name of your website, because it just makes potential break for a hack 50% done, because that’s the first thing they try. And then of course to make your password something a little bit more complicated than your child or pet name. And that you should always upgrade your WordPress installation whenever it wants to. Always go in and have a look and see if any of your plugins needs updating because they can cause some security weaknesses. However as I said, and I’ve maintained probably between 30 and 50 websites in the last 3 years, I’ve only been hacked once.
Nick: You mentioned the updating there. The WordPress will tell you when there is an update available in your dashboard administration area.
Karyn: Yeah. It’s pretty difficult to miss and it’s very easy to do. Of course it always comes with a warning that you should back up your site. I have come from years of never doing the back-up that you need to do and I’ve never had any major fall waivers. I have had plugins cause different issues on a website. You’ll find if something on your website is not working, it’s a matter of deactivating the plugins one by one, and 9 times out of 10, it’s the plug-in.
Nick: Sure, sure, that’s probably one of the downsides of the plugins being available for free. So many people are developing them, there can be clashes between plugins sometimes and new versions of WordPress.
Karyn: Yes, and it’s easy to get excited and install all the plugins. Probably just chose the ones that you really do need and deactivate the ones you’re not using.
Nick: Right, right. If you have too many, it can also lead to your site being a bit too slow, which is a bad issue for users and a bad issue for the search engine as well.
Nick: Great. Let’s have a look now again and have a dark topic. What are some WordPress alternatives that people, other web designers might be recommending and …
Karyn: Sure. So I caught the blogging bug pretty seriously in about 2008 and I did start with TightPad and Blogger. I did grab a tight towards tightpad because I found it nicer. I have to use stuff that looks pretty, and I did end up migrating all my thoughts to WordPress in 2009. After I discovered it just looked better, was better supported, I never looked back. I am suspicious that Blogger might get an incredible make-over at some point. GTE is Google origins, but we’ll see on that and then of course, there’s Joomla that we touched on briefly just before. I really like it, I feel like it’s got a steeper learning curve, though. I find most of the time if someone comes to me and they ask me about having a new website, they will ask for WordPress rather than Joomla. It’s generally something that is more of an advanced recommendation and I’ve decided to fix on WordPress because I love it, however, I do respect Joomla and also Druple, having spent less time in Druple.
Nick: What do you think of, sort of proprietary systems that web developers might have that is just their own system?
Karyn: I recommend, to stay away from them and I find that when a company has gone to great lengths to build a content management system, it’s something that are you going to be sure that they are going to be supporting it for a very long time and that they are going to update it regularly and are they going to be around for the various bugs and troubles that always occur.
Secondly, WordPress has some innate features which just cause your website to rank higher on Google. I can’t tell you the exact technical specifications. I found after my grading a sight-over from another platform, just simply by putting it in WordPress, it ranks better. I think enough of the various technical discussions online as to why this occurs, and it’s, if you know anything about pings, it’s got something to do with that. Every time you send a post on WordPress, it gets spotted pretty much immediately on WordPress, other aspects like that but I also find that, for instance there’s something called weeks, it just looks horrible to me. And I just find that people who build their own websites have all of the energy and excitement to do it but maybe less graphical design knowledge and so you can quickly create a fairly ordinary looking website using some of that proprietary software out there.
Nick: Something else I want to say about that. I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers in the web design community but, something that I find or I think is the case, is that these web designers that have these proprietary systems is often a way of locking you in because once you’re sort of in there and you have your website with that system, you can’t change to someone else. You’re sort of locked in as long as you want to keep that website, you have to stay with that company.
Karyn: That’s absolutely right Nick. That’s an excellent observation, definitely. I say to all of my clients, if you need to go to someone else after this that’s absolutely fine, it’s all there for you. And I’ve been, it’s been easy for me to pick up where other web designers have left off with some client sites or sometimes I’ll just go in and do a little bit of security and SEO and the tweaking of the website and then hand it back, so that’s what great about WordPress also.
Nick: Yep. And you mentioned about Blogger before and earlier I said that all of our websites are on WordPress but I lie. The blog for this podcast is actually on Blogger and when I created it, I sort of, I don’t know, just started off with Blogger and now I sort of regret it and it’s to the point where it’s kind of hard to switch it over. So I definitely recommend, if someone is thinking of going with blogger, which is free, consider just paying, hosting is very cheap these days. You can get pretty cheap hosting for as low as $10 a month. I also get a lot of content and bandwidth needed, so just pay that little bit of money, get a proper domain, and go for a self-hosted WordPress over something like Blogger.
Karyn: And something else too. If you are a company that wants to be picked up in China, if you use anything that has WordPress dot whatever in the URL, it will blocked, however if you have a self-hosted WordPress website, it’s available to be seen. So, just little things like that.
Nick: Right, right. That’s another point as well. I mean, if you have your own website with your own domain, you can have your own email address. So you can have email@example.com as opposed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karyn: Sure. And also, back in the day, when I paid for the professional version of TightPad, I think it was $15 a months, which can add up in a year for a little blog, whereas WordPress these days, you can get your webhosting for $50 a year if you look around. So, there’s some savings to be made as well.
Karyn: Oh it’s just killing me, I’ve got 7.
Nick: Oh, give us 7.
Karyn: Yep. So number 1 is a plug-in called WP Manage. It’s my favorite plugin of all time. It means I can manage all my sites from one dashboard. You can have 5 website in it for free. I do pay for the professional version because I’ve got more than that and it allows you to update all your WordPress installations and plugins with just 1 click of a button. I mean, that’s a little bit frightening, I do it site by site just to make sure that nothing’s fallen over.
I’d hate to update 20 sites and then try and discover which one is having an issue. However, it’s there if you’d really like to do it. You can install the same plugin to all of your sites at once, which is a huge timesaver and I can schedule weekly backups of all my sites including the database, and 2 gig drives, which I do once a week. I just don’t even think about my backups and you can do things like SCOGDs, you can post from one dashboard, you can search for various security flaws, and that’s just the first things I can remember, you know. If you even got 2 sites, I recommend, use this.
Number 2 is Jetpack. I think pretty much everyone should just install it. You need a WordPress dot com account to use it. That’s free and very easy to set up. It keeps you straight off the bat, some really great page steps. It’s got an in-built spelling and grammar checker, which is obviously crucial for publishing online and easy sign-up subscriptions, social sharing widget, short coding bedding, which if I explain very non-technically, just putting your results into publishing, quite easy. Yeah, so, that’s the first plugin you should install. There’s another plug-in and there are several of this kind and I call it N relate. So, what that means is when you have a post or an article showing on your site, underneath it will give the users some ideas on some other content on your website that they might find interesting, which is great. It just makes the website a little bit stickier, people will stay on it longer.
Nick: Yeah that one sounds good. What was that code? N relate?
Karyn: Yes, capital N, relate.
Nick: Right, yeah. So, that allows people to stay on your website a bit longer if they can see something else they understood and wants to finish reading the page on their own.
Karyn: Yeah, you can customize a little bit too. You can decide if you want image to show or just text and there are some other nice customization options which are pretty easy to do. Now, everyone’s talking about responsive websites these days, which means that a website that looks good on different sides of the screen, and tablets and I tend to think that most people have phones which are showing the majority of websites pretty reasonably, however, I install WordPress MYBOL addition on my site. I’m also experimenting with some other plugins of that nature but it’s pretty much a plugin that shows a very fine friendly version of your website. So, that one’s really, really handy.
If you’re looking for some sort of event calendar, which is often right up there on a list of things that a small business might like and what it does, it’s free and it just provides an excellent calendar on your website, which can sync with Facebook. So, if you have a Facebook fan page, you can sync in between your WordPress website and your Facebook page, so that your upcoming events will show on both and that one looks amazing on a mobile as well. And then just to give a taste, because obviously, there’s lots of free plugins, and then there’s also plugins that you pay for, which means that someone’s really gone the extra mile and developed something which is pretty rock style software that’s just going to add to experience of your website.
One of my favorite is a business directory called connections. I think it was like $30 plus an extra $10 for a user upload form and if you wanted to go and see how it looks, I’ve got that live on a new website I just developed. Chinatownadelaide.com and it currently has, I think about 300 small businesses listed on it that are China Town Adelaide friendly, so definitely look at that one if you need any sort of directory.
Nick: Wow, that sounds good.
Karyn: Yep. And excellent support. I need to point out, if you’re ever using a plugin and you’re unhappy with the support because you can’t get answers back from the developers, just go find another plugin. There’s thousands of them, and you’ll find that it will be easy to find one where you’ll get an answer with 24 hours.
Nick: Yep. You mentioned that premium plugin or paid plugins now often have better support I find, than the free plug in.
Karyn: Can I give you one more?
Nick: Yeah go for it.
Karyn: Probably search engine optimization is one of the most puzzling topics for a small business person looking to get a website and everyone wants to be number one on Google right, because that’s where you get most of your business. I’m not entirely convinced that a SWEO plug-in answers all of the issues that you need to be looking at, but it does go part of the way. So, I’d have to recommend a plugin called All in one SEO and another one by a fellow who’s known quite widely on the internet, it’s called YOAST. So, check either of them out. I’m experimenting with them both on different sites and trying to monitor how it’s actually affecting my sites, search engine optimization.
Nick: Great, great. I was actually about to mention Yoast myself. So, I’m glad we agree on that one. It’s for SEO that’s what I use on all my sites, SEO wise and it also gets a lot of good updates, frequently as new, Google stuff comes out, Yoast is in there, updating it and adding new functionality. So, he’s really on top of things, which is good.
Karyn: And his website’s got a bunch of information about search.
Nick: Yeah. He’s an SEO consultant as well, I think, as well as a developer and whatnot, so he’s a pretty handy guy. I’ll have a link in the show next to his stuff too.
Nick: Great. Well, that brings us to the end of the interview. Thanks very much for coming on Karyn, it’s been great having you.
Karyn: Yeah, thank you so much for having me and check out my WordPress Web design services.
Nick: Yep, and where can people do that?
Karyn: At my website, which is deign.massiveempire.me, as in m for mother e for egg.
Nick: Right, right. I’ll have a link in the show notes for that as well. Great, and have a good weekend, Karyn.
Karyn: Thanks Nick.
Nick: See yah. I hope everyone found that interview useful. We talked about the fact that WordPress is great because it’s really user friendly and really easy to use but even if you are going to get a website developed and have your developer take care of it for you, I would still recommend going with WordPress because it’s so flexible. It can grow with your business, as you get bigger and bigger. It can grow, it can be changed. The design can be changed really easily while still keeping your same content and you can move between different designers, different developers if they get out of business or if you’re going to move, if you’ve got to change you can easily switch over to different developers. It’s such a big community of people using it and we didn’t actually mention an interview with [Inaudible 00:26:22] That’s what Karyn does as well, managing WordPress websites ongoing for clients. So, definitely, think about that option if you’re getting a website developed as well.
Also, if you’re interested in learning more about WordPress or even networking with people in Adelaide who also have WordPress websites and are interested in WordPress, there’s been recently a new group started up on Facebook, a Facebook group for WordPress people in Adelaide. Anyone interested in WordPress? I’ll have a link in the show notes, and there’s actually an event coming in about 2 weeks, about mid-November. There’s going to be someone coming down from Queensland presenting some information about WordPress. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to be in there but it should be a fun night anyway. It’s going to be at the Majoran Distillery, which is a recently opened co-working space in Adelaide. So, it should be a really grand event, and if you’re interested in WordPress at all then I suggest you come along, and I’ll see you next week.[/spoiler]