SitePoint Podcast #68: WordPress and Marketing with Aaron Brazell, Lisa Sabin-Wilson, and Brandon Eley

Matthew Magain

Episode 68 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week, Patrick (@ifroggy), Brad (@williamsba) and Stephan (@ssegraves) interview book authors Aaron Brazell, Lisa Sabin-Wilson, and Brandon Eley at WordCamp Raleigh. The team discusses WordPress — the recent release of version 3.0, and the role of WordPress in online marketing.

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Interview Transcript

July 2, 2010.

Patrick: The authors or co-authors of WordPress Bible, WordPress for Dummies, BuddyPress for Dummies and Online Marketing Inside Out, stop by the show. This is the SitePoint Podcast #68: WordPress and Marketing with Aaron Brazell, Lisa Sabin-Wilson, and Brandon Eley.

Hello and welcome to another addition of the SitePoint podcast. I’m Patrick O’Keefe, and this is the second in our five interview series from our live show down at WordCamp Raleigh. Today I’ll be joined by Brad Williams and Stephan Seagraves as we interview book authors Aaron Brazell, Lisa Sabin-Wilson, and Brandon Eley. Aaron Brazell is the owner of Immense Technologies and the author of WordPress Bible. Lisa Sabin-Wilson is the owner of Webscapes Design Studio and the author of both WordPress for Dummies and BuddyPress for Dummies. Finally, Brandon Eley is the interactive director for Kelsey Advertising and Design, the owner of ecommerce retailer 2bigfeet.com, and the co-author of SitePoint book Online Marketing Inside Out with Shane Tilley. Interestingly, both Aaron Brazell and Brandon Eley are former SitePoint Forum staff members just like myself and Brad, and Stephan is currently a staff member as well. Let’s get started.

So our next guest is Aaron Brazell. Aaron is the owner of Emmense Technologies and the author of WordPress Bible which we’re going to be giving away in a moment. And the first question I have for you, Aaron, and sorry to step over you there Stephan.

Stephan: That’s okay.

Patrick: The first question I have is you know obviously at this table right now all four of us we’re all current or former SitePoint Forum staff members. And looking back at your time on the forums which was at least a few years, right, four or five years?

Aaron: I left in 2003.

Patrick: So you were there from 2000 —

Aaron: 2000-2003, so about three and a half, four years.

Patrick: Less than I thought, but it seems like three or four or five years, I’ll tell you that.

Aaron: My account is still active if that counts.

Patrick: So looking back at your time on the forums, what do you think about that time, that period of your life, and how did your involvement with SitePoint in the forums help you to where you are today?

Aaron: Well, actually my experience at SitePoint was right at the very beginning of me doing anything really on the Web. And as most of us I believe probably were in those days we were all sort of learning and learning a lot. I learned everything I know about PHP, well, I got fairly decent, let’s call it that, via SitePoint; the forums there, the people that were helping out and already knew PHP. I was a total newbie, so I learned everything. By the time I left in ’03 I was really comfortable with it and I was able to kind of start launching out, getting toward launching out on my own.

Patrick: And you met people on SitePoint in the forums I know that you ended up working for.

Aaron: Jeremy Wright.

Patrick: Or founding, starting businesses with.

Aaron: Right.

Patrick: Or from hosting barefooting, I think, if I recall.

Aaron: Barefooting.com.

Patrick: That’s a long time ago.

Brad: So we should go back and probably pull up your first post and check it out on the big screen.

Aaron: On SitePoint? I have no idea if anyone has posted (laughter).

Brad: It’s always funny to look at everyone’s first post. Yeah, so if you had to buy one other WordPress book, other than the one you wrote, which one would that be and why?

Aaron: Is Lisa in the room?

Patrick: She’s next so it could be soon.
Aaron: Well, before she gets in the room I’ll have to say Professional WordPress.

Brad: Good answer; I’ve heard good things about that book.

Aaron: (laughs)

Patrick: Oh, and look, speak of the devil.

Brad: Hi Lisa.

Aaron: I said WordPress for Dummies, right?

Stephan: Yeah, that’s right. So, what are the few things, talking about WordPress 3.0, what are the few things that you’re really excited about coming out in the new release?

Aaron: Yeah, and I actually am using 3.0 in production on several sites. Obviously I’m very excited about the custom taxonomies and post types, and I’m in the middle of doing a project right now for a client that involves custom post types. If I could show it I would. But even more than that I think the merge is huge, and I think it’s still not as easy as it needs to be to flip the switch and go into multi-site mode, but it’s still sort of a pain the butt to do that just like in the old MU days. I mean it was a pain to set up MU, it’s still a pain to set up multi-site, but what it’s going to do is all the innovation that goes into WordPress, all of a sudden is going to be focused on MU2, and that to this time has not yet happened. MU has always been sort of the red-headed stepchild of WordPress.

Stephan: So it’s going to get more play now from the –?

Aaron: I think so. And just because if you think just on the sheer numbers of it really you had Donica and Ron, WPMU Guru, who have been really working on MU. And now you’ve got what equates to roughly 10 committers plus the whole core team that contributes in some way to WordPress looking at what is MU2 now as it’s going to be part of the WordPress code base. And that only means good things for WordPress.

Stephan: Definitely.

Aaron: I mean that means where MU has sort of become stagnant in terms of innovation, it’s all of a sudden going to have a whole lot of eyeballs on it, and a lot of people are going to be dreaming up some cool shit. I’m sorry, sir.

Brad: And we’re live!

Stephan: It’s not the Internet, Dave, you can’t be saying that. (laughter) It’s not the Internet.

Patrick: So if you have a question about WordPress Bible, Aaron’s book, or WordPress MU, if you do you will receive a copy of his book WordPress Bible. Back there.

Audience Member: Yeah, I got a question. So, hello, right now WordPress MU and like WordPress plug-ins a lot of times don’t work with the MU platform. So I mean are we still going to be kind of having to use those plug-ins that don’t quite work with MU or is there a new method of creating plug-ins that is coming out with the –?

Aaron: Well, the API that’s involved in WordPress for creating plug-ins still exists and it’s still going to work, and in fact it’s even more integrated now with multi-site for 3.0. What you still have is you still have all the plug-in API that existed exclusively for MU, most of that has been rolled into the WordPress 3.0 core. So for — if you wanted to create a plug-in that was specifically multi-site you would have access to those API’s. If you want to create a plug-in that is for WordPress, as long as you’re using the plug-in API, the theory is that with the merge all kind of still works. I think that’s kind of yet to be seen if that’s fully baked; I think it probably is but we’ve probably overlooked some things in the course of development that will end up getting — having to get fixed via patches or something along the way, future releases.

Audience Member: Puts higher integrations with (inaudible).

Aaron: I’m sorry I can’t hear you.

Patrick: Higher integration with the MU platform?

Aaron: Uh, yeah, I mean it’s — right now the thing to keep in mind with multi-site is that what we tried to do is get everything into WordPress that was in MU. What we haven’t done necessarily is smoothed out all the wrinkles that will make it easier to use MU stuff, and I think that’s going to come in future releases. Now that we’ve got the merge done now we can start looking at really advancing that.

Audience Member: Okay. Thank you.

Patrick: Aaron where can we find you online?

Aaron: I’m Technosailor on Twitter, follow with caution, I’m not nearly as civil online as I am sitting up here on the SitePoint podcast.

Stephan: Will you be karaoke-ing tonight?

Aaron: I really would like to karaoke if anybody wants to go.

Stephan: Alright, cool, yeah we’re down. (laughter)

Aaron: Oh, technosailor.com.

Patrick: Excellent.

Stephan: Thanks, Aaron.

Brad: Thanks.

Patrick: So we’re going to stay with the authors at this point and bring up Lisa Sabin-Wilson, Lisa?

Brad: Come on down!

Patrick: Brad, take it from there.

Lisa: Now I get the hot seat.

Patrick: It’s only hot because people have been sitting there.

Lisa: It’s hot; Aaron was sitting here.

Brad: Hi Lisa.

Lisa: Hi Brad.

Brad: So Lisa is the owner E. Webscapes Design Studio. She’s also the author of WordPress for Dummies and the newly released BuddyPress for Dummies.

Lisa: Yeah, that’s right.

Brad: Thank you for joining us.

Lisa: Thank you for having me.

Brad: So BuddyPress for Dummies is recently released. How are sales doing?

Lisa: Sales are doing good. As a matter of fact I just talked to my editor last week, they’re not doing as well as WordPress for Dummies, they were kind of hoping that BuddyPress for Dummies would sell as well, but they also understand that BuddyPress is brand new, and it’s a real kind of focused and targeted plug-in for people that want to do a very specific thing and run that social community on their website. And so you look at the audience for WordPress for Dummies that’s a pretty vast audience of brand new users and people just being introduced to WordPress. BuddyPress is more for people who are already familiar with WordPress and want to add that kind of social community layer on. And so it’s a different audience but it’s doing well.

Brad: Cool. So, yeah, correct me if I’m wrong, but your book is the only BuddyPress book on the market right now, is that right?

Lisa: The only one right now, yeah. I say right now because who knows, these books come out like crazy.

Brad: What version of WordPress is it based on, is it 2.9 or –?

Lisa: It’s based on 2.9.2 and BuddyPress 1.2.

Brad: BuddyPress 1.2.

Lisa: Yeah.

Brad: Have you noticed a major increase in BuddyPress requests through your company obviously since the book has come out now?

Lisa: Yeah, definitely since the book has come out. People read the book and then they come to me for BuddyPress development. Probably since I would say fall of 2009 we’re getting just a vast amount of BuddyPress requests and MU multi-site requests have been always ongoing, but now with the popularity and the emergence of BuddyPress people are real excited about it, so we are getting a lot of requests for that.

Brad: Yeah. And anyone that’s worked with BuddyPress probably knows that it is evolving very quickly because it’s a new product. So when you’re writing a book around software that evolves so quickly how do you stay up on it to make sure what you’re writing is in fact going to be correct a couple months from now?

Lisa: You don’t sleep and you don’t eat, and no, actually I’ve got a real good relationship with Andy Peatling, he was my tech editor for BuddyPress for Dummies.

Brad: The lead developer for BuddyPress, right?

Lisa: Yeah, he’s the lead developer of BuddyPress software, and he was just really helpful for me in keeping up because when I first started writing BuddyPress for Dummies I was writing it on the 1.0 branch before the theming and changed and all these new upgrades came out. So keeping in touch with the people who are actually involved with the development of the project, and that is also the same for WordPress for Dummies, keeping in touch with the core devs and the people from Automatic and the folks that are responsible for putting out that software and developing good relationships with them so they’re communicating what’s new, what’s coming up.

Brad: Right.

Lisa: Having Andy as the tech editor of that book kind of served that double purpose. Tech editors are employed to kind of come behind the author and make sure that what you’re writing is technically correct, but Andy kind of served a double purpose because then he would write back and he’d go, okay, this is gone, this is gone, you need to add this in, and so it’s hard but it’s doable.

Brad: Yeah, no that sounds great. And going back to WordPress for Dummies, so you had the second edition and now is a third edition in the works? Is that something we can expect soon or –?

Lisa: The third edition is pretty well done and written. It’s kind of on hold right now for me to give the editors the final okay you can print it now because we’re just waiting for 3.0 to drop.

Brad: So it is based on 3.0.

Lisa: It is based on 3.0, yeah; it’s got the merge in the menus and the custom post types and everything in there for you, hmm-mm.

Brad: Awesome.

Lisa: Yeah.

Patrick: We’ll be giving away the second edition here today.

Lisa: That’s okay, it’s the current.

Patrick: It’s the current edition.

Lisa: It is the current edition.

Patrick: So if you have a question about BuddyPress you’ll win a copy of BuddyPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson, so go ahead.

Audience Member: (Inaudible)

Brad: So just to repeat the question, the question is — is BuddyPress going to kind of stay in this niche or is it really going to break out and kind of be more mainstream I guess?

Lisa: I see it becoming more mainstream. I think that before people integrate something like BuddyPress on their websites they really need to take a long hard look at the features that are available for it and decide if it’s something that fits into what their websites are focused towards. Some people, you know, have a real need for that social community and social networking, other sites maybe not so much. So, but it’s becoming a lot more accessible to people; this time last year you couldn’t install BuddyPress using the installer on the WordPress dashboard. Now you can, you can just search for it and install it just like any other plug-in. They’ve made a lot of improvements on the theming and customizing of BuddyPress now over the last year, so as it becomes more accessible for general users I do see it being used a lot more.

Patrick: We have another question over here. No book, but you can ask the question.

Audience Member: Can you give us some of your best examples of BuddyPress users?

Lisa: Probably one of the best examples of a site that I’ve done recently is at nourishnetwork.com; it is a foodie site, so it’s all about sharing recipes and sharing different ideas of kitchen tips and things like that. So a site like that really lends itself well to a social network because who doesn’t love food, and people can join up, create groups around different kinds of foods, barbeque food, Chinese food, share their recipes and share their techniques, things like that. So that site I launched about a year and a half ago actually on BuddyPress and just going through right now with them upgrading them through the whole 3.0 process and the new BuddyPress versions. But she’s done extremely well over there with her social network and making it work for her.

Stephan: Was there another question? I thought I saw a hand. In the back, yeah, we’ll take this one, the last one.

Audience Member: (Inaudible). One thing that I’m really kind of concerned about is scalability for both WordPress MU and BuddyPress. (Inaudible) but more specifically I was wondering about BuddyPress for Dummies and how scalable and stable is it?

Brad: So the question is how scalable is the BuddyPress platform?

Lisa: Your mileage is going to vary on that depending on the requirements and the size of your community really. I mean if you’ve got sites like Mashable, for instance, or the New York Times using multi-site and BuddyPress, obviously their communities are going to be a lot larger and used a lot more than maybe a smaller site is going to be used. I can’t — I don’t really have much comment on scalability because I haven’t run into any problems with it, perhaps, I don’t know, Aaron, do you have any –?

Patrick: Your time’s up Aaron (laughs).

Aaron: It does have the same limitations that WordPress does and that is if PHP isn’t optimized you’re gonna have problems, if your server isn’t optimized you’re gonna have problems, your MySQL’s not optimized you’re gonna have problems (inaudible).

Lisa: So basically the server environment is going to make a difference, a big difference.

Audience Member: (Inaudible). What’s the ideal server environment as far as like –?

Lisa: Go Daddy (laughs).

Brad: Is there a host sponsor? (laughs)

Lisa: Yeah, do we have a hosting sponsor? I can’t request a host over another, you know, you have to have a good amount of disk space, bandwidth, I usually recommend a dedicated server environment for a site that’s really going to be using a lot of the multi-site and BuddyPress features just simply because of the transfer and disk space. When you get a large community that are doing things like sharing photos, sharing videos, lots of traffic back and forth with your people communicating, building forums, things like that I would generally recommend going through our dedicated or virtual BPS type environment.

Audience Member: What about the (inaudible)? How stable is the database for users?

Lisa: There is a plug-in for that. Isn’t that an answer?

Stephan: The question is how stable is the users, right, in the database?

Lisa: How stable is the users in the database?

Stephan: How stable is the user database, yeah.

Lisa: It’s stable, I mean it does tend to get rather large, and if your community does get large you can scale that across multiple databases to try and help control that issue for you a little bit, but I would say if you’re getting a large community like that definitely scale it across several different databases for more stability.

Patrick: Thanks Lisa.

Lisa: Sure.

Patrick: Where can we find you online?

Lisa: You can find me at lisasabinwilson.com, and my Twitter is @lisasabinwilson, so pretty easy to find.

Patrick: Thank you.

Lisa: Sure. Thank you.

Stephan: Thanks for coming.

Patrick: Our next guest is closing out the three author section, Brandon Eley. Brandon is the author of Online Marketing Inside Out co-authored with Shane Tilley. He’s also the interactive director at Kelsey Advertising & Design, and the owner of ecommerce retailer 2bigfeet.com. Brandon welcome to the show.

Brandon: Hello.

Patrick: Straight forward. So, 2 Big Feet is an ecommerce retail site focused on selling large sized shoes, men’s shoes. Running 2 Big Feet obviously you have a niche market that you’re trying to reach, and that’s people with large feet. So, you know, not to make fun of that in any way, so please don’t laugh, but how do you —

Brandon: You know what they say. (laughter)

Patrick: You wear big shoes.

Brandon: Yeah, we have really big shoes.

Patrick: And they have money to spend at 2bigfeet.com. So how do you market to a niche group like that, and what have you found to be the most successful in your marketing efforts?

Brandon: Billboards. No, I’m kidding. We actually did try a lot of offline marketing and none of it worked. I mean obviously if you have a really niche audience that you need to find I mean the only way to get to them is online. And so the more niche you are the easier it is to target those. For instance, we thought about what somebody would do if they went their local shoe store and they couldn’t find a shoe; if you walk in your local shoe store and have a size 18 foot chances are, one, they’re going to laugh at you, and two, they’re not going to have anything in your size. If you’re a 14 or 15 you might find one pair of tennis shoes, but try finding a pair of flip flops or, you know, a pair of dress shoes to wear to church on Sunday and there’s just nothing out there. But we thought these people are going to go to the Internet and search for what they — I wear a size 18 shoe or I need large size shoes. So we do a primarily search engine marketing and we use pay-per-click and regular SEO for our site, and we find a lot of people that find us that way because they get frustrated going to local places. In other niches you might target a community that, you know, focuses on the type of people that you’re looking for. You kind of have to think about what the people you’re targeting, what your niche, what those people are doing and what they’re looking for.

Patrick: You know with how Facebook allows you to target your ads at people and their interests are you salivating for the day when people enter their shoe size on Facebook?

Brandon: Yes. No, but that brings up our —

Patrick: (Inaudible), pay attention.

Brandon: That brings up a really good point because one of our designers does wedding invitations and those kinds of things on the site. And it’s kind of a niche market because she’s very localized, she can’t sit down and meet with people to design an invitation for people all over, but the only way you can really market that business years ago was to do print advertising or take out some kind of ad with the newspaper. And what she’s found and what we recommended that she do is take out a Facebook ad where she can market herself very tight demographic location based marketing, she can target people who change their status to recently engaged, she can market to only women because you know men, like we care about wedding invitations. So that’s a really good point that you can market on Facebook to certain types of audiences and very, very specifically target it to the people who want to see those ads and the timing is right.

Patrick: So Brandon wrote the book Online Marketing Inside Out, and we’re going to give a copy away to — don’t raise your hand until I say the question — to the first person who can ask a question about online marketing. And who are we going to give it to between — I’m going to go to you because you waited until after I asked the question, sorry, go ahead.

Audience Member: If you were going to do one thing or make one recommendation, the first thing that everyone should do online as far as marketing, what would it be?

Brandon: What do you sell? What do you do? (laughter).

Patrick: The answer is it depends.

Brandon: It always depends. I mean you want a site that’s naturally organically search engine optimized, and I mean that takes so long that’s probably the first thing I would do is make sure I had done the keyword research, and I had built the — you know, WordPress is great because it’s so well optimized, but get the WordPress SEO plug-in and make sure you optimize all your post titles and that kind of thing, because going back after you’ve got a thousand posts or a hundred posts or three hundred posts is kind of impossible. And once you start that it takes a really long time to start building up that traffic. That’s actually about 65 or 70 percent of our sales in our ecommerce business, and a lot of our clients over time it builds up from 10 to 20 percent initially to be 70/80 percent of their overall traffic in the long term. So definitely start with the SEO.

Patrick: So this is a question I’m curious about just balancing entrepreneurial lifestyle in general, let’s say, I know we probably have a bunch of entrepreneurs in this room; raise your hand if you’re an entrepreneur. Yeah, that’s a lot of people, like 60 percent of the room raised their hand, and that doesn’t include the people that are looking at their laptops and wouldn’t have heard what I said. (laughs).

Stephan: So you have a day job, full time job at an agency, you have your own company, and you speak at events like this, you wrote a book, etcetera. How do you find balance also having a family and all these things pulling at your time? How do you find balance to get all those things done well and right?

Brandon: You just don’t sleep. That pretty much covers it.

Patrick: Is that because you’re out late or is that because you’re working?

Brandon: Well, that’s the networking part of it. You have to actually meet people to get these speaking gigs and stuff. No, I mean it is, it’s a hard balance and fortunately my wife runs our business full time so I get to do all the marketing and fun stuff, and unfortunately she gets to do all the packing of orders and managing the employees and, you know, I guess it’s not really fair but it works. But you have to be real careful and optimize your time, try to prioritize and not get caught up doing stuff that doesn’t matter.

Brad: We actually have a question from the UStream chat room, and they’d like to know what’s better for advertising web design services, Facebook or Google?

Brandon: Well, I would probably say neither. If I was to try to advertise web design services right now I would really start trying to build a personal network. So maybe Facebook would be good, but I wouldn’t want to market to those people but rather build a page on Facebook and start inviting people and communicating with them and maybe start educating them. I’d really start a blog to be honest.

Brad: I like the sound of that.

Patrick: A WordPress powered blog.

Brandon: Google is so expensive now for so many of the — Google’s so expensive with the pay-per-click for so many of the really big industries like web posting, web design, that it’s very difficult to be cost effective and actually get any value out of it.

Patrick: So, just like with Aaron Brazell, again, the four of us up here are current or former SitePoint Forum staff members, so I want to basically pose the same question to you. I know between the five of us we have four books in print, and how do you view SitePoint as a part of your development in helping you to reach this point?

Brandon: Well, it definitely helped. I was advisor there for eight years; I’ve been there for about ten years overall, and it definitely helped getting the book deal with SitePoint considering that I had been a member so long and contributed. I also write the SitePoint Tribune Newsletter that goes out to about 200,000 people a week. I co-author it with Miles Burke who also is a SitePoint author and wrote a book. But I mean it’s opened up endless doors to writing, speaking, consulting, anything.

Patrick: Everything.

Brandon: Yeah.

Patrick: Great Brandon. Where can we find you online?

Brandon: My website’s brandoneley.com, the book’s website is onlinemarketinginsideout.com, and I’m @beley, B-E-L-E-Y, on Twitter.

Patrick: Thanks Brandon.

Stephan: Thanks a lot.

Brad: Thank You.

Brandon: Thank you.

Patrick: Well, it was great to have them on. And now let’s go around the table and close out this episode of the SitePoint podcast.

Brad: Brad Williams from webdevstudios.com and you can find me on Twitter: @williamsba.

Stephan: I’m Stephan Seagraves; you can find me on Twitter: @ssegraves, and my blog’s badice.com.

Patrick: And I am Patrick O’Keefe of the iFroggy Network, and I’m on Twitter @ifroggy. You can follow our usual co-host Kevin Yank @sentience and SitePoint @sitepointdotcom, that’s SitePoint d-o-t c-o-m. You can also visit us at sitepoint.com/podcast to leave comments on this show and to subscribe to receive every show automatically. Email podcast@sitepoint.com with your questions for us, we’d love to read them out on the show and give you our advice.

This episode of the SitePoint podcast was produced by Karn Broad.

Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Theme music by Mike Mella.

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