WordCamp Toronto 2015 Talk – Don’t Let Your Content Hold Your Website Back

Don’t Let Your Content Hold Your Website Back – Transcript

Jai: Welcome everyone. My name is Jai and the talk is Don’t Let Content Hold Your Website Back. If you’re wondering if that’s how the presentation is going to go and hoping it doesn’t, I hope so too – we’ll find out. For public speaking, for the longest time I was very very afraid to speak in public. What if I make a mistake? People are judging me. I’m putting myself out there. What if the feedback is bad and I’m critiqued. And similar to that, was my writing. For the longest time I was very very afraid of writing. My mom used to tell to have a journal – to just start writing. But I did not used to do it. Just because I thought I sucked. And it was a matter of – I never knew the tools, as well as what I would write about. And whether it was any good. Most likely people have something similar out there. So, today we’ll talk about some of these tools that, hopefully, will help you write better – in case you’re afraid of writing.

A little bit about me. I blog for ShopStorm, which is a Shopify app development company. I talk about shop tips as well as app reviews and things like that. I’m a copy-writer for Enollo. Enollo is a Toronto based marketing agency – so graphic and web design. So I write content for client websites. I’m also – I work in communications at TD Asset Management, so that’s sort of my “day job”. And I graduated last year with professional writing and communication from University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. It’s a program there – a very good program, in case anybody’s interested. And this is the first time I’m presenting at a WordCamp. So, bear with me. That wasn’t true, I just said that to get the claps… No no, it is true.

Alright, what are we here for today? The way humans communicate is telling stories. And online, we tell stories largely through our content. And stories are what determine what the narrative is, whether that’s your personal narrative, whether that’s a brand narrative. It’s through stories that we connect with people. So, the root of those stories is content. To me – content, it’s kind of a big deal. But, a lot of times – in my experience, when a client wants a website, we go hire a graphic designer, we go hire a web designer, web developer, functionality. And content almost gets left behind to be the last thing. I’ve had a lot of clients who want to do content on their own. And so, content is not given as much importance as I think it should be. So hopefully, today – for all of you, in terms of whatever you do with WordPress – it helps you to develop better content, or recommend better content.

So, today we will talk about website content, blogging and I’ll go through a couple of plugins that I personally use and I find – those help me craft content better. First on website content. One of the key things that I think about is the “less is more” philosophy. I see a lot of websites jam packed with content. With long paragraphs that nobody is really reading and I’m not sure why they end up there. What I find – a lot of times people copy what they do in print marketing and just slap that on, onto the web, for their website or blog or whatever it is. And there’s usually a ‘read more’ at the bottom, so that’s not even the end of it – there’s usually a link, to go somewhere else and read a full page. People don’t like to read long things. If you can accomplish the same thing through a visual – now, whether that’s a screenshot, graphics, infographics, images, icons, or a number of things to accomplish the same thing – use it. People would thank you for it. And, other things to keep in mind for website is – keep language simple. Nobody likes big words. It might make you sound smarter, but you don’t have to. What you want people to do is, understand what your company is about – what your website is about, what your blog is about. And you want them to not open Wikipedia and then come back to see what you’re talking about. The biggest mistake you can make is – typo. You can have bad content, have bad copy, no call to action, nothing. Don’t have typos. Few slides back, did anybody notice a typo? What was your — how did you feel when you saw that? Did anybody think, “This guy doesn’t really know what he’s doing. He was probably rushed. Attention wasn’t there, to detail.” Now, I don’t have a nice, fancy background image or anything like that, its plain slides, but a typo kills your credibility faster than anything else – in my opinion. When you’re trying to portray yourself as a professional website or whatever it is. So, one of the things for less content and not bogging people down and having good calls to action is the bounce rate. You want people to come on your website, stay on your website, interact with whatever it is that you want them to interact with – if I’m speaking too fast, let me know, I’ll slow it down, but we’re going to continue at this pace. And bounce rate affects your search optimization. So content is the root of search optimization. So, SEO, whether people are coming from social media sites, forums or whatever it is – it’s your content that determines your optimization. Now, a lot people think – more copy helps and a lot of keywords thrown in helps and maybe it does. I’m not an SEO expert. But you have to play a balance between user experience and your search experience. In my opinion, you can accomplish a really good experience both ways, with lesser content and cleaner content. It actually takes more effort to write less and accomplish the same idea – or get across the same idea.

The next thing we’ll quickly go through is – not quickly actually, this is the big part of the presentation – blogging. And SEO, sort of, leads right into blogging. On your website, you can only have so much copy and you can only do so many things. With your blog, you can do whatever you want. Basically, each post is a new page for your website. So, you can target whatever keywords you want and just focus on those and build a post around that. You want to target a different keyword, have a different post. Blogs are the voice of your brand. Talking about stories and narrative. Through a blog, you can tell your story. It’s the difference between watching a TV series versus a movie. So a movie, things have to be rushed, point A to point B, the arc has to be finished within an hour and a half or two hours. Whereas – a series, you have multiple episodes. It’s a much longer narrative. So you get to know the characters, you get to know the protagonist much, much better. And same thing is with a blog. You can accomplish and you can connect with people a lot better, having a longer narrative than a shorter one. You can use your blogs for a number of things – informational blogs. These are, for example – ShopStorm. It’s just shop tips about Shopify, very focused on Shopify, app reviews. It’s basically information on how you can make your Shopify store better. But, there’re a number of other things. You can – depending on what you’re using your website for, either you have new sales or new products in development or whatever it is. You can have blog posts about those. So, it’s a really nice way to connect with people and keep your customers or visitors updated, or your target audience updated about what you’re up to. And, the last thing is – customer forum and interaction. Instead of having – I mean you have WordPress, which has the blog built-in. You have a whole reply/comment system built into your website. Start using it. Instead of people posting on Yelp or third party websites, have people come onto your site and give reviews. Or if you want feedback, have a post about the feedback. Have people comment, it can become a forum. In a lot of ways you can control… “control”, that’s a bad word. You can direct, steer the narrative and reply to people much quicker, much easier.

Everybody has some sort of pen, computer, something on them? What I want you to do is, quickly think about 3 things you can use a blog for. So, for your websites, if you build client websites. Just write down 3 things very very quickly. We’ll take a minute to do that. Ok, 3 ideas. Everybody has 3 ideas? Alright, hold on to those and think about them as you go through this conference. As you listen to a number of speakers, talking about a number of different things – how you can use your WordPress blog for your website. Keep your pens and laptops or whatever you’re using out, because we’ll do a bit of an exercise soon. So, free-writing is – all you’re doing is writing without actually thinking about things and we’ll get into that. But, to know what you’re doing wrong or to even just find out what you do and what your patterns are when you write, you need to actually start doing it. Otherwise, those are things just in your head. You think you can’t write a nice long sentence, you think you can’t write an interesting ending or close to a sentence. But you don’t know until you start writing it out and that’s what free-writing helps with. You’re going to continue writing whatever it is, whatever you’re thinking about. Just start writing, and we’ll do that for a minute. So, don’t start until I say so, I’m going to time it. When everybody is sort of ready? And again, the rules are – you don’t stop, no backspacing, no nothing. You just start writing and you don’t think about it, you just continue. Ok, ready-set-go!

So, who here wants to share their experience and how they felt? Anybody who sort of thinks they suck at writing, wants to put their hands up instead of me picking on someone?

Audience Member #1: I just did exactly what you said to do. As soon you said start, I just started. I just kept writing. And then you said stop and I though oh my gosh! I haven’t got much down here, I wish I could keep going.

Jai: And that’s really good. Anybody have a different experience in that?

Audience Member #2: You got to really, express how you feel – fuck mistakes.

Jai: Good!

Audience Member #2: [Inaudible].

Jai: Yeah, and you just continue and you just start writing. So, it seems like both of you – you started and it was hard stopping. But anybody have trouble in the beginning and as you went along, it just became much, much easier? And then towards the end, you didn’t want to stop you just thought, “Alright – this can continue.” Anybody like that? Sort of a break in the beginning – and that happens right? Because what happens is, eventually you get into your stream of consciousness. Whatever you’re thinking, eventually you start writing about. It’s much harder to start, for a lot of people, and that was my experience. It’s much harder for me to start writing something, rather than – once I’m in it, and continue writing. So, one good thing about free writing is – you get a lot on to your paper. And then, after you’re done – you can go back and cut down whatever you don’t need. What you’ll realize is – you’ll still have a lot of nuggets of really good content in there. So if you have trouble writing, try doing that [free-writing] often.

Casual versus professional [tone]. Do you use abbreviations? Do you use acronyms? Or just the tone of the voice. The gentleman over there said, “Yeah, fuck mistakes.” And that’s perfectly fine, that’s your voice if that’s what you want for your blog. Somebody else might want a much more professional – I work at TD, there are a lot of regulations around what you can say, what you can’t say. And compliance department has a lot of thoughts about not making things interesting at all. No jargon. And one of the thing that happens with people, once you get into an industry – you’re so immersed in the industry, you forget that people outside the industry might not understand what you’re talking about. So even something as simple as SEO, I made that assumption, but not everybody in this room might know what SEO stands for. Write it all out. So the first instance you write out a difficult concept or any concept that you use an acronym or abbreviation or whatever it is – write out the full description. And then you can continue doing the abbreviation.

Audience Member #4: So you might be getting into that, but the thing I find hard is to define which person. Do you talk “I” and “you” or “you” and “we”?

Jai: That depends on the tone you set. If you’re talking about “I”, it has to be very clear – it’s your personal website. If you’re writing for a company, you use – ”we”. And it has to be very clear that “we” means, let’s say – ShopStorm. Or “we” means – at TD, we think this. So you have to define who the subject is, but once you do that – you’re good. It’s a matter of the tone of your blog.

Layout in blogging have a lot of different areas of importance. So have a lot of images, block text, text boxes, and screenshots. Whatever you’re doing, break it all up. Don’t make it all plain text. Bold – in a paragraph, bold whatever you want people to look at. If they’re just skimming through, you still want people to see the main points that you’re trying to make. Links. Whenever you have a link to an external website – personally, I like to open them in a new window or a new tab. What that does is – once people see whatever they want to see on that link, they can go back to your own website. Then they don’t have to click the back button, because people don’t like to do that for some reason. Regularity. Have consistency when you’re posting, whether that’s once a week, once a month, every day. Build that expectation with your audience. Instead of having 7 posts in one week, then waiting a month, then another 7 – it’s much better to have those 7 posts over whatever period doing in some form of regularity. Length. You don’t have to write long blogs. My issue was, “I’m not going blog, because how am I going write all that content?” Have short blogs. That’s ok, have short posts. And you can vary them. I think the recommended minimum is about 300 words. But if your purpose is served with a shorter post – go ahead, do it. It’s your own post. Next is framework. This is what I use when I’m blogging. Have 3 key points that you’re trying to blog about. Once you have those points, write an introduction, write a summary (which is basically repeating, summarizing of the points) and have a call to action. A post is – not useless, I guess you can accomplish whatever you want. But having a very clear call to action helps you get from your audience what you want them to do. Even if it’s simply, “Post in the comments about what you think about this post.” Have a call to action. Let them do something

The other plugin I use is the Editorial Calendar. Which you can do to schedule posts. On a month view you can look at all the posts you have in the future, in the past (after you’ve installed the plugin and activated it). You can do drafts and posts but you can also schedule them to be posted. So if I want something to be posted – and let’s just get into it [open the plugin]. So once you install it, you’ll see it under your posts in the calendar. And what this gives me is a month’s view of all the things that I’m planning on posting. So, if I want to create a post here [a specific day of the month], you’ll do a quick edit about – ‘New post on [the day]’. And you can set the time for when it needs to be published. Whether you post at 11 o’clock, or whatever it is – you can set the time. And the other thing is the status. So if you’re just putting a placeholder – you’ll save it as a draft. But if this is all I want to say [types in the sentence], I can actually just do ‘scheduled’. So, what it’ll do is – once we hit 10am on October 9th [selected date and time] – it’ll automatically post that post. In terms of scheduling things and pre-planning things – I find this plugin to be really helpful. I use it, but if there’re better plugins – by all means.

Audience Member #5: What’s the name again?

Jai: Editorial Calendar. That’s the name of the plugin. Let’s recap – sorry, you have a question?

Audience Member #6: That plugin [Yoast] that does it allow you to type your post with keywords when it’s posted or it does everything?

Jai: You have to go in and do it. If you’re doing a quick post or a quick edit, you can’t edit Yoast right there. But once you go into a post and you click on ‘edit’, similar to your regular post – Yoast will be at the bottom and you can do your SEO.

Audience Member #7: Can we get the developer plugin .

Jai: I’ll open it afterwards if that’s ok?

Audience Member #8: You can schedule posts within a regular WordPress blog, right? I’m wondering, what’s the advantage of this calendar?

Jai: The calendar view is what I find helpful, instead of the list view. And the other thing is – you can move things around. If I want to quickly move a post from one day to the next, I just drag and drop it to a different date.

Audience Member #8: And can you use Yoast on a .com site or a .org?

Jai: I’m not sure.

Audience Member #9: Any site will work.

Jai: Any site? Ok. Whoever know the answer, yes to them. I’m not sure, I haven’t tried it on a .com.

Audience Member #10: You can’t put any plugins whatsoever in wordpress.com, for something is free – you don’t get any real choices. In wordpress.org is self-hosted, you can put every single plugin that there is out there for WordPress. Your site will be a little slow.

Jai: Ok. Quick question?

Audience Member #11: About the calendar. It’s more than just about the calendar view. It allows you to maybe connect your strategic marketing to – like, being at WordCamp. You might want to say I know I’ll be at WordCamp, let me schedule things that’ll fire off automatically on social media.

Jai: Yes, for sure. Whatever your use case is, but definitely your content strategy. So, less is more. Start using a blog, whatever it is you’re using it for and SEO. So, here’s what I want you to do – start free-writing. One minute per day, a minute is not too long. Get into the habit of just writing and getting things out there and you’ll be surprised at how much content you write. Today, we did – just about anything. But you can actually be – you know, Yoast and specific to that, start writing about searchability, SEO, whatever it is. And you’ll actually come up out with a lot of good things, most likely. And look at a website you’ve done already, either your own or a client’s site – cut content by about 25% and see if you can accomplish the same amount of effect with lower content. And then, the 3 ideas that you had for your blog. Within the next month, write one post about them. Questions? Any other questions? I know we covered a lot of questions in here.

Audience Member #12: I wanted to ask about one example about the Mona Lisa thing. I understand that a big roll of text is kinda difficult to read all that. But what d’you do in the case of accessibility? Like somebody’s let’s say blind, they have a screen reader and you don’t just want to say ‘Mona Lisa’.

Jai: Yeah, again – depends on what your use case is. These are just things you can use that go into your toolbox. These are not rules that you have to follow to get better content. So if writing out is better – And I’m not an expert on accessibility writing. I’m sure there are talks about that at this WordCamp.

Audience Member #13: Could you go back to the previous slide?

Jai: No worries.

Audience Member #14: I write for a living, for a newspaper. And my editor is a judgemental a-hole. So, he’s always making me write. When you write, you know, the little voice that’s judgemental?

Jai: Yes.

Audience Member #15: How do you punch it in the face, so you can just write?

Jai: That’s where, I think, free-writing comes in. And especially if you’re typing. Cover your screen, don’t even look at what you’ve written before. One minute is just a start by the way. Start free-writing for longer as you go along, as you get more comfortable. But the judgemental will still be there, I think it’s just a matter of. You have to see – is your audience served better by you actually writing this versus this information not being out there.

Audience Member #15: Because for 8 years, from my profession. I think that judgemental little voice from my boss still heard when I personally write for my own blog and I just want to punch it in the face.

Jai: Yeah, and I think – that judgemental voice is in my head too, when I write every week for Shopstorm. And it’s just a matter of getting in there. And you hope that people are kind. Any other questions? No?


Well, thank you everyone – you’re all very kind and lovely.

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