Assuming my scheduling has worked, I have just finished my #BrightonSEO presentation entitled ‘Cool Shit You Can Do With WordPress’. Either that or I’m from the future.
I’ll put the slides on slideshare and embed them into the post later on, but slides are pretty meaningless out of context anyway, so this post aims to provide said context…
SEOs Do NOT Need To Code
Whilst this presentation/post is about WordPress, it isn’t a highly technical piece explaining lots of different technologies. I’m not a developer, and whilst I do believe that we should be able to communicate effectively with developers, I don’t think we should be spending years learning how to code.
WordPress is far and away the most popular CMS in the world:
But a much more pertinent point is that WordPress powers lots of small and medium businesses, and in fact, following my highly rigorous Twitter survey, most of your clients use WordPress.
So that’s why WordPress.
Automate Shit With IFTTT & Zapier
The first thing I want to talk about is how you can easily automate lots of routine tasks with WordPress using the likes of IFTTT and Zapier. Both of these programs work by connecting together online applications so that if an event occurs on one application, it triggers an event on the other. Here are some of the integrations you can set up with WordPress:
If you’ve ever dealt with a client who constantly forgets to share posts on social media, you can just set up a rule to do it for them. Or maybe someone on your team needs to know every time your client publishes a new post, you can get an automatic email or a new task added to Basecamp.
And these platforms also work the other way around, so you can hook up Tumblr to directly republish the post on WordPress. Or if a new video goes live on your YouTube channel you can automatically create a corresponding post on WordPress.
So there’s loads of different variations you can put together to create your own ‘recipes’.
Here’s a little Rube Goldberg workflow we set up on our site a few months ago:
Creating Streamlined Workflows
You can go beyond simple automation, as The Bangor Daily News proved – they are a news site who streamlined their complete operation using WordPress.
Now that is actually Bangor in Maine, in the USA… not Ireland like I first thought (which is a bit disappointing).
These guys have a print version and an online version of their paper, but their problem was that they didn’t really want their reporters logging into WordPress because they had lots of issues with version control. They solved this by hooking together Google Drive, WordPress and InDesign so they could auto import the data from a single source.
They wanted to use Google Drive so that their reporters could take advantage of the collaboration features, then they integrated their articles via the Drive API so that they would appear as drafts in WordPress. Their reporters never actually had to log into WordPress.
Then they would get a copy-editor to log into WordPress and publish the stories on their site. Once this was done they pulled the story directly into InDesign via a plugin they wrote, to make the story ready for the print edition.
So both the web and the print editions of the paper were powered by the original entry on Google Drive.
In fact about a month ago they just rewrote their InDesign plugin as a script, and open sourced it. So you can find it on github if you want to use it.
Read this post for a full run through of exactly how their streamlining process works.
Plugins & Themes
Yes I know, there are millions of posts on the web about WordPress plugins and themes. I’m going to pick out a few ways you can use them to help create linkworthy and shareworthy content.
Starting off with a bit of Quizbait, a-la Us Vs Th3m, whose quizzes have proven to be immensely sharable – as their North-o-Meter aptly proved. This example is my favourite, although I did struggle a bit early on as I was being completely ignored by The Daily Mail (being a male who has a job) – eventually I did make it to fully hated though (phew!). I could have got there a lot quicker if I were a homosexual Muslim woman.
So if you wanted to try and produce something like this, there’s a WordPress plugin called Slick Quiz which is totally free and really easy to use. It doesn’t look quite as flashy as the Us Vs Th3m quizzes, but definitely allows you to put something solid together even just as a proof of concept.
Here’s an example that the guys at Wish.co.uk are working on – which is like a ‘how much of hellhole is your workplace’.
I’m sure you’ve also seen a fair amount of these parallax scrolling pages, or at least scrolling interactive infographics, which basically have an effect where the background moves at a slower rate to the foreground, creating a 3D effect as you scroll down the page.
One of the most well known examples of this is Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, which was published by The New York Times back at the end of 2012 and has had literally millions of views since. This piece had a massive impact online, and practically redefined the future of online journalism.
If you’ve not seen it, I urge you to watch it – it’s a full on multimedia experience, intertwining the stories of several skiers as they recounted their experience of the avalanche, with full screen HTML5 video, animations, audio, and images all built into the main text story. It is a really superb piece of journalism.
Now this isn’t built in WordPress. But then again it did take over a year to produce.
So how might you recreate something like Snow Fall?
Typically with this type of content you’d either put it on a microsite or a dedicated page within your current site. It’s unlikely to have the normal navigation options – and this means you’re not restricted by your current theme.
This makes it pretty easy to do using WordPress, even if you’re not working with a WordPress site. You can just install WordPress under a specific directory, and then on there install a parallax theme which will handle the scrolling effects for you.
Here’s a collection of 30 or so Parallax themes. Almost all of these are responsive, and lots of them come with collections of additional animation effects you can add in.
If you want to try and recreate the big background video they employ on Snow Fall, then go and check out the github page for developer John Polacek. He’s produced a JQuery plugin called BigVideo which allows you to set big background video in HTML5. There’s also another great plugin on his Github page called SuperScrollorama which lets you use loads of cool scroll effects and have content bouncing onto the screen and flying about everywhere.
So, by combining a parallax theme and some of these cool plugins you can create a really engaging piece of longform content without a massive expense on development. Now obviously you would still have to write the copy and shoot the video(!), but at least you can bring down the development cost somewhat.
Here’s an example of a company using WordPress to produce something visually spectacular.
This is Alzheimer’s Research UK, who put together this microsite to help raise awareness and increase donations. So when you go on this site it has a really cool walk through animation as you scroll, almost like one of those old Flash sites.
This is just built in a standard WordPress theme with a few Jquery plugins to create all the effects.
Example: Perfect Web Page
Here’s an example of how you can make interactive content more manageable (or not, as it turns out).
Some of you might have seen this interactive guide we published on our site last year, which split up all the different elements of a web page and how you can optimize each one.
It did pretty well in terms of metrics – 50,000 unique visits, 3000 plus shares and over 100 linking root domains. But because we built this for ourselves, the back end wasn’t particularly friendly to work with. So if you want to edit the content, it looks like this…
Which is not friendly at all. The thing is, in WordPress, with something this complex, you can’t edit the data in visual mode, or it screws everything up, so you have to edit it in the text editor.
With this type of ‘evergreen’ resource, you are going to want to keep it up to date. But if you try asking a client to edit this, they will guaranteed break it.
Advanced Custom Fields
To create more manageable content assets, you can make use of Advanced Custom Fields to simplify the back-end.
Here’s an example of a tool we build for our client FE International - these guys are website brokers, so they buy and sell websites. They wanted some awareness in the SEO space, so we came up with this content idea of a website penalty indicator, which pulls in SEMrush traffic data for a website and then overlays Panda and Penguin dates.
If you’ve seen the Panguin tool, it works pretty much like that except you don’t need access to Google Analytics, so it’s a really handy prospecting tool.
And unlike the previous example, we built this one with a friendly back-end. We built the main data fields into a settings option on their site, so they literally log into WordPress, choose the settings menu and select SEMrush graph, then they can update the content or add in new updates whenever they want.
So the important thing here is that this is perfectly familiar to anyone using WordPress – there’s nothing new to learn, it’s really easy for anyone to update, and it’s on a system that they already know how to use. You could get an intern updating that.
In my opinion these custom fields are one of the most powerful features of WordPress as it just makes everything much easier to handle.
Syncing Offline Tools With WordPress
My final example is another client job we did, and this was for an indoor mini golf company called Jungle Rumble. They actually wanted us to build a scoreboard system that they could display in their venue – a bit like 10 pin bowling – but wanted to control it though their existing WordPress site.
This sort of thing isn’t natively supported by WordPress, so we built them an application which handled the scoreboard system but could be controlled by WordPress. So when people came in to play, the manager would log onto WordPress and create their team and all their players.
He can then give the players a URL to log onto on their phones, where they can select their name and input their score as they go round the course – rather than the traditional method of writing it on a scorecard.
This system also creates a corresponding scoreboard URL, which is displayed on the monitors around the course and in the bar at the end – so the player’s scores are updated to the scoreboard in real time.
Although the input and output URLs don’t live with WordPress themselves, they push and pull data from the WordPress database. So the important thing for our client is that he still gets to use one single backend system for his website and also for his customer scoring system, which works out quite neatly for him.
I had a ‘takeaways’ slide in my presentation, but I’m sure you don’t really need one in the blog post so I’ll leave it out.
The point of this post is not to try and convince you how great WordPress is, but to help make you aware of the opportunities that are available, so you can confidently sit down with a developer and say ‘this is what I’m looking to achieve, and this is how we might do it.’
This is not really about how to do ‘cool shit’ with WordPress. It’s about how you can make the most of the technology that’s available to you, and better serve the needs of your clients.