WordCamp Sacramento 2015

This was the inaugural year of Wordcamp Sacramento.  This seemed fitting as it was also my first Wordcamp to attend. The program lineup had many interesting talks scheduled and I knew I wouldn’t have a dull moment.

I even volunteered to help out in the Happieness Bar for an hour during the day. My WordPress development has come a long way over the past couple of years. Volunteering allowed me to help others and be a part of the Sacramento community.

After picking up some new swag and attending the opening remarks it was off to the advanced track room.

0900 – Local Development with Vagrant & VVV

John Trujillo of Tytanium Ideas began the day talking about local development. He walked us trough the process of setting up a virtual machine using Vagrant. The big advantage than Jon stressed is the ability to match your local development to your server. Then you can use the version of software that your production environment is running. You can also share the setup so others in your team can quickly spin up the same local environment.

The magic of VVV

Varrying-Vagrant-Vagrants is a Vagrant environment that has been configured for WordPress Development. While Vagrant is for setting up any virtual server, VVV is built specifically to build WordPress Plugins/Themes/Apps. It includes a lot of tools out of the box

  • Ubuntu
  • nginx (apache version available)
  • 4 Standard WordPress Instals
  • WP-CLI
  • lots more!

John walked us through the process of getting all this setup on our own computer. Vagrant uses shared folders so you can create your WordPress files in your own directories and they work within the VM. You can either use phpMyAdmin, Sequl Pro (or eqv), or even SSH into your server with Vagrant  to access your VM’s database.

I’ve been using VVV for a few months so I had already gone through the process of installing and setting it up. Though most of this was review it was great to see another developer go through a similar process to setup a local development environment. John also touched on some other Vagrant projects focused on WordPress Development. The Mercury Vagrant (HGV) is built by WPEngine to match their environment. There is also Trellis which uses Ansible for provisioning a LEMP stack for WordPress.

1000 – Content Design – Getting the Most from your Content and Images

For the second talk I decided to slide over to the beginner track to see Dawn Pedersen’s talk on Content. I misread the schedule and didn’t realize that I would miss out on Vasken Hauri from 10up talk about everything Cache.

The talk began where most content begins, with the text. Writing and formatting text is important to deliver your message to the reader. Unlike a book or magazine, people rarely read a webpage word for word. We jump around and scan the page looking for things that are meaningful.

This means you should write your copy so it is scannable, and above all else, avoid the Wall of Text! Some other tips were:

  • Use the Inverted pyramid
  • Write Simply
  • Limit yourself to one idea per paragraph
  • Break texts into lists ( like this 😛 )
  • Use Headings and Subheadings
  • Highlight Keywords

The Inverted Pyramid

People will decide if they will keep reading based on the first sentence or two. So you need to get to the point first. It means they could read the first paragraph and have the broad understanding of your subject.

From here use broad strokes and then the important details. Try to flesh out your ideas in the later paragraphs. You also want to use good transitions to get from one idea to the next.

Write Simply

Just because you write your subject simply doesn’t make the topic simple. The key is to understand a complicated idea and express it simply. Dawn gave some great tips to incorporate into your writing.

  • Use vocabulary that is easy to follow
  • Avoid jargon and cleaver wordplay
  • Get to the point quickly
  • Sort words and phrases. Consise 2 to 3 sentence paragraphs
  • Use half of the word count as for printed text
  • Replace passive phrases with active phrases
  • Don’t center text! Ragged left edge is difficult to read
  • Re-read and make sure it makes sense
  • One idea per paragraph
  • Keywords and the beginning and end of paragraphs

Many of the other text formatting tips are pretty straight forward and make it easier for the reader to consume your writing.

More Content Tips

Writing on the web, especially a blog, we have a few more tricks for styling and presenting our text content. These range from changing line breaks to prevent widows, controlling excerpt content, and moving users through your site.

When you have a post title or a subheading you might end up with one word on a second line if the title is long. The lone word is called a widow and is not desirable from a design standpoint. A way around this is adding in   to your title. This is a non-breaking-space and you can add a couple to push another word onto the next line. This is a workaround and isn’t the best coding wise, but helps the presentation.

On the main blog index you can show your entire posts, or you can define an excerpt. In your post you can either add a read more tag, or use a custom field to write your own excerpt.

Once you have people on your site, you want to keep them there. Linking within your article to other relevant content makes it easy for them to keep reading. You also get the benefit of Google rewarding you for self linking.

Images

With faster internet connection speeds there are more and more images on web sites. WordPress makes it easy to work with and align images in your articles and featured images are great to start your post off with a bang. Here are some good tips for working with images.

  • Use Large images. Especially your featured image as Facebook will grab this for the shared link.
  • Begin with the best quality image you can manage
  • Optimize images before you upload to WordPress
  • Reduce it to the appropriate size that you will use.
  • Be careful with image floats and alignment
  • Interesting images should get their own line
  • Make sure to rename your image file names
  • Try using captions to further explain the image. It’s another way for eyes to scan the page
  • Use images that are relevant, interesting, and appealing

1300 – Coding Together: A Dev Workflow

Peter Chester from Modern Tribe spoke about his journey from solo developer to working with a large team. There are benefits to working by yourself.

  • Control over the project
  • Low Overhead
  • Stay Competitive
  • Be Efficient

But with all these benefits come the mighty negatives. The stress, multitasking, many hat wearing and lonely times. Working with a team can lead to many more benefits that not only help you, but your customers.

One of the big things that Peter talked about was the development workflow. He shared his solo workflow, and how it evolved as more people began to work on the project.

At Modern Tribe they use the git-flow branching model. The above workflow begins by creating a new feature. It has many steps in quality control and testing before finally being merged into the project.

Another topic that Peter discussed was what he called Conscious Coding. In this he means we all need to code for not only ourselves, but for the coders and designers who will work with the code in the future. You need to use clearly named Classes, variables, function titles. These along with succinct documentation bring everything together.

1400 – Way of the Future

During Jon Trujilio’s opening talk about VVV he mentioned other projects were also using Vagrant for local development. Jason Cosper from WP Engine gave his talk on an exciting competetor to VVV, Mercury Vagrant (HGV). It was built by WP Engine to maximise your production environments to their hosting, but you can use HGV no matter where you end up hosting. And HGV is all about the future.

So many of todays sites run on old versions of PHP. HHVM from Facebook looked to be the future for WordPress, but then came PHP7. As Jason says, PHP7 is PHP on steroids, and he gave some impressive benchmarks.

Developers need to use these new tools to build sites for the future. VVV is great, and an industry standard. But it still ships with PHP 5.5. The beauty of HGV is the ability to not only test your site with PHP5.5, but also PHP7 and HHVM at the same time. You drop your files in one folder and then use subdomains to test the same site with different processors. There are even links in your WordPress Admin bar to switch between 5.5, 7, and HHVM.

Everthing about the future of coding relies on speed, and HGV is a great tool to test your site and prepare it for the future.

1530 – Ad Revenue 101

After several advanced course classes I switched back to the beginner room to hear Ben Ilfeld’s talk on WordPress Ad Revenue. I’ve never dealt with ads in a website so there was a lot to learn.

Ben began with a lot of information about the history of ad technology and the modern Ad Ecosystem. Ad Networks make it easy to aggregate media sites for advertising. New technologies changed the landscape with Real Time Bidding and Ad Exchanges. The Ad Networks transformed into these Exchanges where bidding and auctions were happening on a massive scale.

With the Ad Exchange you can sell space yourself with no need for a sales person. There is a lot of data and some sophisticated algorithms about each potential ad shown. Because of these large scales the prices are unbelievably low.

What are the other options?

You can choose to sell space yourself. Having a website with a good niche market would allow you to own the direct relationship with the advertisers. Another option is joining the global market and focus on growing your traffic.

You could also do both! But this is likely only for bigger sites.

How to get started

DoubleClick for Publishers by Google. It’s free but can be complex. Also good for managing direct sold, ad networks and exchanges. It’s owned by Google, so you know it’s not going anywhere.

There are other plugins for WordPress that let you manage your ads. Ad Code Manager is easy for non-developers to configure a complex set of ad codes. The plugin still works, but isn’t in active development.

Broadstreet is another service that is independent and affordable. It’s great for managing direct sold with smaller advertisers and it has an up to date WordPress plugin.

Another option for integrating ads is with a related posts plugin. YARPP or Yet Another Related Posts Plugin lets you integrate sponsored links next to your related posts.

No easy beginning

Something I got from the talk was there is no silver bullet to sucuessful advertising. You’re going to start small and have to work your way up. As you increase the demand for your audience you can add more ad networks and extensions to grow your revenue.

1645 – Lightning Talks

The day ended with three lightning talks, about 15 mintues each, and were jam packed with information.

iThemes Security

There was a lot to talk about so John Locke jumped into it and never slowed down. Here are some of the key points and benefits to using iThemes security

  • Update WordPress Salts, makes everyone re-login to Wordress. Great way to get the bad guys out quick.
  • Change database prefix
  • Change the wp-content folder name
  • Schedule backups of your database. Have these backups emailed to you.
  • XML-RPC request – Allow, Block, or just block Pinkbacks
  • 404 Detection – blocks out after a lot of 404 hits when someone is trying to find a backdoor
  • Change admin username and the database row. Not row number 1.
  • Away Mode – Set when your Dashboard is available. The login screen will be unavailable.
  • Brute Force Protection – join the network of blocking IP’s who are guilty of Brute Force
  • File change protection
  • Hide the login Area
  • Disable the file editor

I’ve been using a different security plugin for awhile but after all the great tools that John described I’ll be switching to iThemes soon.

ECommerce

Alex Christensen gave an introductory talk about selling through your WordPress site. He covered a ton of basic questions that you need to answer before you sell your first item. I didn’t take many additional notes but his slides are avaiable here.

Near the end of the slides is a big table detailing the abilities of six of the major ecommerce options. It’s a great tool for making sure the plugin you pick is the best choice for what you need

Forms

Russell Aaron ended the WordCamp with a talk all about forms. One of the first big pieces of knowledge he dropped was that WordPress is full of contact forms. You use forms to fill out information and send it to another place. Sometimes this is to fill out a new blog post and send it to the database, or saving settings to a different table in the database.

Another idea he discussed was about filters. WordPress keeps developing filters to keep your site safe. They also progress WordPress to become more. You use filters to help keep your front side forms safe from the public and their malicious content.

After telling a story of some ridiculous problems he’s caused with bad plugin updates he reminded us this fact of widsom: Plugins are not bad because they’re called plugins, they’re bad when a drunk coder pushes bad code.

Wrapping Up

I had a great time at the Sacramento Wordcamp and I wish I had starting going to Wordcamps years ago. There is so much to learn about Wordpress from some very talented speakers. I also made a few connections that I hope to keep in touch with and see again at the local Sacramento WordPress Meetup. If you haven’t been to a Wordcamp yet, what are you waiting for?

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