I recently attended WordCamp London 2015. It was by far the biggest WordCamp I’d ever been to. With 600 attendees, 3 tracks in 3 buildings and 64 speakers, it could have been overwhelming. The fact that it retained the spirit, friendliness and intimacy of previous WordCamps I’ve attended is a testament to the organisers. I was really impressed with the way they kept talks running to time, provided food and drink on tap and had entertainment lined up for Saturday night. Plus nice touches like the job board and listing of all local WordPress meetups to let people share the WP love afterwards.
It would have been good to attend the Contributor Day on Friday, but travelling from Edinburgh, I didn’t think my funds and energy would stretch, so here’s my take on Saturday’s talks.
Planning and Managing Your Nonprofit’s Website – Jason King
Jason spoke about his experiences working with nonprofits and how to structure your proposals for the third sector.
Some key takeaways were:
- Get the project brief written and approved before you start doing anything else.
- Make sure you have a “website champion” – 1 person to negotiate with and encourage your ideas. Don’t get caught in committees.
- Nonprofits like open source, but don’t mention WordPress straight off. You can say you’re getting developer recommendations and mention it later – if it is indeed the best choice.
- Find out if the organisation uses a CRM and if it’s necessary for it to integrate with their website e.g. CiviCRM works better with Drupal.
- To cope with fixed budgets, offer a basic proposal at a low price, with add-ons up to the budget limit.
- A style guide creates consistency. RNLI has good brand guidelines.
- Creating documentation and a training manual are highly recommended.
- Custom brand donate pages for sixfold higher donations.
- Email newsletters can be very effective.
- And finally… Never work for free.
Building Themes with the REST API – Jack Lenox
This talk was completely packed out, such that the organisers had to turn people away!
There are a number of JS frameworks and libraries which will work with the REST API, including Node.js, AngularJS and Backbone (which has been part of WordPress Core since 2012).
The REST API allows the use of GET, POST, PUT and DELETE commands which will work with WordPress posts, pages and comments.
You can also use the REST API in theme building. Two of the main benefits to making a RESTful theme include improved speed and the ability to load content offline. Jack showed us an example of a theme he had built with the REST API, called Picard. It was created with:
- Browserify, which allows you to split JS into modules
- A compiler such as Grunt or Gulp.
Jack explained some of his code:
classNameis used instead of class, as class is a protected term.
dangerouslySetInnerHTMLis used to overcome React’s tendency to escape strings.
functions.phpholds all the code outside the REST API.
A downloadable version of the Picard theme, called Picard-Present, is available on from GitHub. Jack apologised for the “really terrible” code, saying that the finished version will be a lot better!
What’s New in Web Design and Development Law – Heather Burns
Heather is studying Internet Policy at Strathclyde University. She went over the good, the bad and the ugly of laws that affect the web. She covered:
The EU Consumer Rights Directive (2014)
This law has added protections for buyers and sellers trading online. It prevents nastiness such as boxes being pre-checked on items for sale. The law mainly covers rights pre-purchase.
UK Consumer Rights Bill (comes into force 1 October 2015)
An update to consumer rights law post-purchase. Guidance will be available from 1 April.
UK Copyright Law
Changes to the law came into effect in 2014. Fair use now covers copying media for personal use, using quotations, teaching using copyright materials and creating pastiches. Another welcome exception to copyright law is the allowance of accessible formats for all disabled people, regardless of impairment.
Here is a guide to US copyright law if you’re based in the States.
EU Cookie Law
This much-maligned law has cost the EU $2.3 billion, yet only 3 fines were collected last year, bringing in 29,000 euros. Madness!
EU VAT Place of Supply Law (VATMOSS)
Heather has blogged on the EU VAT law extensively. It affects all of us selling digital products/services to EU countries; EU VAT Action have a good introduction and are running a campaign against the implications of the law for microbusinesses. Someone asked if there was a punishment for flouting the law; Heather replied that since only 7,000 businesses were VATMOSS registered, it looks like any true enforcement of the law is some way off.
Heather touched on contracts for web designers – she said that hers is 3-5 pages long, depending on the project. It has covered her against chancers like the client who blamed her for receiving a letter from Getty Images for unauthorised use of an image, which he had taken from Google Images. Her post on a good web design contract is a good starting point. You should customize it to your own needs, write in plain English and get it checked by a lawyer.
Easy, Lazy SEO – Jessica Rose
Jessica, a former teacher, went over the basics of SEO, saying it’s really a guessing game, as Google will never reveal their algorithm.
- Use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to get some solid search data.
- A yellow light in WordPress SEO by Yoast is good enough.
- SEO penalties can be manual (where you get a message on GWT) or algorithmic (no warning at all!) Get expert advice if you are penalised.
- Cleaning up bad backlinks is really hard.
- Switching to a new domain will mean you lose some of your ranking – actually a good thing if you’ve screwed it up.
- Don’t delete outdated content – leave it up as archived content.
- Manage client expectations if you’re upselling SEO services. Many expect to get to #1 in Google immediately.
Creating Content That Matters – Jon Buchan
Jon delivered one of the best talks of the weekend in my opinion. All the more remarkable, as he was a late replacement for another speaker, and this was his first talk!
Jon started the Render Positive marketing agency 5 years ago. One of their specialities is content marketing, which he describes as the new SEO.
The value of content marketing
Creating quality content isn’t easily done, but it:
- Appreciates in value over time.
- Builds a following on social media.
- Helps you get high quality links to your site.
- Positions you as original and creative.
To do content marketing well you need to:
- Create something shareworthy
- Reach as large an audience as possible
- Stand out from the crowd
- Get influencers to link to you
Some good examples of content marketing
ITN Source Interactive Technology Timeline – charts tech through the ages with video examples.
The 6 Elements of Persuasion infographic – how to influence others’ decisions. Do read it!
Cost Your Commute Time Machine – an interactive calculator: work out how much London public transport fares cost in previous years compared to the present day.
Will it Blend? – Blendtec took their ostensibly dull blenders and created a viral video campaign around blending unusual items such as light bulbs, iPhones and Daleks!
How to get started with content marketing
- See what gets shared with a tool like SharedCount.
- Brainstorm, then narrow down your ideas and ditch the bad ones.
- Create an innovative, intriguing headline – Jon cited “Beer Thieving Pig Gets Drunk And Starts Fight With Cow.”
- Find influencers through Google search, blogrolls, social media and tools such as FollowerWonk and BuzzStream. Build relationships with them.
- Premarket your content with bloggers and journalists. If they don’t think an idea is good, don’t run with it.
In the Q&A, Jon explained that he didn’t send press releases. He prefers to send emails with unusual subject lines with content which surprises readers. That’s how he wins his sales meetings. Sadly he couldn’t share his email template with us!
Responsive Images – Bruce Lawson
I knew this talk would be good as I’d heard Bruce speak on a couple of occasions before, and he was his same charming and amusing self.
The talk centred round how we create and deploy multiple versions of images in the browser to cater for different devices. It’s necessary as the number of images on web pages has increased, and each image has got bigger as well.
It seems a simple problem to solve, but it’s not. Trying to do it through adding an extra image CSS doesn’t work. Due to preloading, the browser downloads both, which is not what we want. We need to change the markup.
It’s all to do with the Browser Fairy Queen and her Image Helper Elves, who are responsible for creating the DOM tree (you had to be there).
New HTML elements and attributes for responsive images
<picture> is the new
x specify which size of picture we want e.g.
srcset="hires.jpg 2x". There can be more than one
The w attribute indicates what image to use at a specific device width e.g.
image-960.jpg 960w". The browser is clever and will figure out which one to use.
sizes attribute tells the browser how wide the final rendered image will be
e.g. sizes = "100vw".
type indicates the image format e.g.
type="image/webp". WebP generates smaller images, and is used by Google.
To check which image has been chosen, use the
You can also use <picture> to choose different parts of an image to display on different devices.
Can I use <picture> now?
Yes you can, in Opera and Chrome. Firefox 38 – out in May 2015 – will also have support. IE and Safari are still deciding.
What Story Is Your Portfolio Telling? – Jane Falconer-White
This was another enjoyable talk in room 2 with Jane, an accountant and writer, who works at Human Made.
She encouraged us to use storytelling in our portfolios to create a more compelling experience for potential clients.
Think of your clients as undergoing the hero’s journey, with you as the mentor. These are the stages:
- The ordinary world – this was your client before you showed up on the scene.
- The hero receives the call to adventure – why did your client contact you?
- The hero finds the mentor (that’s you!) – in your portfolio, talk about the adventure “we” have gone on together.
- The challenges – select 3-6 of them, describe them and how you overcame them.
- The final outcome – highlight your success, and plans for the future.
Choose your best projects to showcase, ideally the ones where you want more work in the same field. Make your story look attractive on the page and include a testimonial if you can.
Attending this talk has made me want to revise all my portfolio pieces!
Going Freelance – Jo Waltham
Jo’s talk was the final talk of the day I attended. She was nervous beforehand but acquitted herself very well for a first time speaker, I thought.
Jo has been freelance for 5 years. She started as a sole trader and originally had a baby clothes site. She later set up an IT support site, Magenta Sky Solutions. She had to change the name of her business when someone started a company with that name, so rebranded to Callia Web. She now runs it as a limited company offering web design services and is at the point of taking on staff.
Most people want to go freelance for one of two reasons – necessity, or the desire for freedom.
The drawbacks, and tips for dealing with them are:
- Start with part-time or evening work to begin with.
- Build a nest egg.
- Work for free if you need to build a portfolio.
Money (not having enough to start, and/or making a steady income)
- Don’t opt for freelancing if you want to get a mortgage.
- Have an emergency fund to cover sickness and holiday expenses.
- Work out your hourly rate by calculating how much you need to earn over 45 weeks of the year. Assume at least 1/3 of your time will be unbillable, and you will pay 20% in tax and NI.
- Tell people what you do. She got a client on holiday once.
- Go to networking events.
Managing the lifestyle
- Have a dedicated workspace.
- Tell friends and family members not to interrupt during your work hours.
- Visit coffee shops or coworking spaces.
- Get the support of your partner and family.
Jo discussed the pros and cons of being a sole trader vs a company. Whichever you go for, you should have:
- a business bank account
- good accounting software – if not a good accountant
- payment terms with a due date
- staged payments to protect against bad debts
Jo was asked how she comes up with her pricing. She said she takes a guesstimate and adds 50% on. She always tracks the hours to see how long the job really takes. Quizzed about outsourcing, she said she will outsource when a task gets too hard. But you can only really outsource if your hourly rate is high enough.
The Saturday night social
Saturday night entertainment was laid on at the Rocket Building. Before that, I went with a small group to the local Wetherspoons, formerly a cinema, for a drink. I chatted with Henriette Stewart, Graham Armfield and Rian Rietveld. Rian and I had corresponded online but never met before, so it was nice to finally meet in person.
We headed back to enjoy our dinner in the main room, which had been converted into a kitchen and dining area. We enjoyed pie, 3 types of mash, mushy peas and baked beans. Lovely!
The after party was downstairs in the building. The sponsor tables had been moved away, the bar was open and a selection of video games were laid on. I had a go at a few and was pretty terrible – I much preferred the Game Masters exhibition I went to last month. I chatted with a few folks including Heather Burns and James of LlamaPress, but didn’t stay too late, leaving just before 11pm. Had to save myself for another packed day the following day…
So that was WordCamp London 2015 day 1. Watch this space for day 2.