Confession by Stuart Pringle, Head of Sales.
This one begins with a point of reference.
Technical knowledge level: fairly poor. My experience is 10 years+ working in digital marketing and publishing but always on the commercial side. Commercial people are not known for their propensity to get excited about SQL databases…
And as Heather Townsend said to me recently ‘You’re in sales, you won’t even bother to read my book.’ Thanks Heather*. So, just complete the scene setter – I had no coding knowledge, somewhat aware of the concept of design but dig a bit deeper and it’s all a bit of a mystery.
WordPress is easy, anyone can do it right?
That’s true. It is easy. And even a one man walking technical disaster area like me can do it. And I’ve done it. Insert proud emoji here. Let me tell you how that went.
Outside of work my thing is bikes. Getting muddy on mountain bikes all around the UK and sometimes, if my wife let’s me, the Alps too. I love it and there’s often a collection of bike bits on the kitchen table (sometimes being cleaned in the sink but we don’t talk about that) and at least one operational steed ready to go at anyone time.
So a few years back, I thought to myself, could I join together that thing I like with that thing I do. You know, the whole venn diagram of passion and purpose. I had an idea to create a mountain bike (and mountain bike bits) review site. A place where geeks like me can discuss the relative merits of High rollers vs Minions, Sram vs Shimano, alu vs steel. Yeah really cool stuff like that. And, it will make me money by stuffing it full of affiliate links. Those links would take you to actual products for sale on the web elsewhere, all tracked so my traffic would earn a commission.
What a plan eh? Let’s do it. So I set myself a few hours a week and weekend to have a crack. RateYourKit was born.
It all started so well. Domain name, bought. Hosting with 123 reg, set up. Email syncing with Gmail, done. WordPress CMS, chosen.
On to a flyer here. I then chose a theme for a few dollars from themeforest (mobile responsive because I am no fool, obvs) and started adding in some content. A friend made me a logo for RateYourKit while he was bored at work. Slap that in there. Blog page added, instagram feed, facebook page. Check me out, this is going well.
Then I noticed site was loading a bit slowly. Turns out as you add more widgets and plugins it takes its toll on the server and you need to add more pace. Hmm ok, my cheap web-hosting just became slightly less cheap but game on.
Here was the biggie, time to get the ‘review centre’ working. I’ve got this under control. There’s a plugin for that. Few more dollars spent, plugin bought. Oh, no documentation, sent a support ticket. No answer. Turns out that plugin had a bunch of negative reviews (oh the irony) and no one had seen a support ticket for several months. On my own with this then. After several late nights, some more late nights, a few wrong turns, nearly throwing my laptop out the bedroom window… I got there. Using FTP I could now upload a list of products, pictures and links. From a CSV. Which needed manually put together. And took ages. And I mean ages.
Meantime, how is the site doing? Not so well actually. Some sort of trojan had got itself on the site and malware warnings were going off when my friends visited it. Oh. Turns out with WordPress security is kinda important. But that’s ok, there’s plugins for that. Couple of hours of work fiddling about later and that seemed ok.
What else was going on? Not much really. The only people visiting were me, my mates, probably my mum and a bunch of bots. Search for RateYourKit and I was on page 1, ok that’s good but hang on, that’s my header and H1 tags and let’s face it who else is trying to rank for ‘RateYourKit.’ Hardly competitive. Search for ‘MTB reviews’, ‘tyre reviews’, ‘which mountainbike’, ‘should I buy a new hardtail’ etc then I was nowhere. Like absolutely NOWHERE. And going nowhere.
Trying to build a coherent strategy of keywords, links, schema markup and content, all while holding up a day job just never happened. It is certainly not a case of if you book them, they will come. No sir.
Don’t even get me started about broken links on site, no 404 page, missing core CMS updates, not having ALT tags on my images, having all sorts of issues with image compression, the review plugin not rendering in mobile correctly (remember what I said about a mobile theme – yeah about that).
And with the theme I was stuck to a set layout, templated places where I could change colours, restrictions on how big the logo could be and stuff like that. And there was other annoying bits like trying to figure out how to switch off ‘comments’ from the contact form. I mean, who puts comments on a contact form? I added a forum. No one visited it. Talking to yourself on a forum is a low point. Let’s not dwell on that.
So yes, can anyone build a site in WordPress. Yes. Do I recommend you have a go? Yes, absolutely, I learnt a lot on the way through the RateYourKit experience.
Can you build a site that is sufficiently professional to fit your brand? That’s a question only you can answer.
Here’s my view. Anyone can build a site that exists, that hasn’t been tasked with ‘doing’ anything. As soon as you want to set key performance goals, be that lead generation, client communication, getting user reviews .. whatever those goals are then I say it’s tough for the ‘man in the street’ to do it alone. It’s very time consuming and costs start to mount as various upgrades and paid-for add-ons get used.
In amongst it all, I stupidly tried to make some quick edits to the layout of the live site. That did not go well and I crashed the whole thing at least twice and had to rebuild. That’s OK (I guess) for a fun site built in spare time. But as the digital first impression of your business, is that really a risk you can take?
In the last couple of years at Sift and PracticeWEB, I have been lucky enough to see not only our own publishing and corporate sites go on a transformation but I have also somehow managed to get a seat on the Sift data group looking how we can really grab the insights from the 1 million+ business users we have across our sites every month. I am pleased to say there is no doubt that I am the least clever person in those meetings. The rate of learning continues unabated.
The amount of thought, process and work that has gone into these projects is impressive. And we’re still collectively pushing forward, the work is not yet done. That picture above is from the office, the AccountingWEB team working on some user flows for new areas of the site.
And at PracticeWEB we are now building new client sites on WordPress. We have our own bespoke build environment which has a few tweaks specially for the sector and Alice our production manager is hiring new additions to the team as we scale for 2018. Our approach is focused on what our clients actually need and what is as a firm they need to get from their digital spend. Whether that’s brand, lead generation, client communication or a combination of all three, this then informs who the site is for and what messages we need to get across.
Being part of a team that works through this is impressive to watch. Sprints, iterations, reviews, releases. The good stuff.
The first client site WordPress release will be in November and we’re currently on it with sites two and three for Q1 2018. I cannot wait to see what’s being created. You’ll be pleased to hear it’s not me who is building it.
Ultimately, as you have probably guessed, this story does not end happily. RateYourKit was put to sleep sometime in mid 2014. RIP.
*I still have not read Heather’s book